Do Your Bank Account a Favor: Drop the Doughnut

By Michelle Singletary
Sunday, September 2, 2007

Deborah McNaughton and Melinda Weinstein want us to face a simple truth: Many people consume too many calories and their unhealthful eating is costing them a piece of prosperity.

"Life would be a whole lot easier if our bank accounts grew and our waistlines stayed in the lower-digit range," McNaughton and Weinstein write in their new book, "Rich and Thin: Slim Down, Shrink Debt & Turn Calories Into Cash."

This mother-and-daughter team has come up with an interesting twist on the typical personal finance book. The two provide a guide to building wealth by battling the bulge.

I like this approach to saving money, and it's why I'm recommending "Rich and Thin" (McGraw Hill, $16.95) as the September selection for the Color of Money Book Club. McNaughton and Weinstein founded the Financial Victory Institute, which specializes in credit and financial education.

Their book could easily be dismissed because of its "let's all be healthy, wealthy and wise" schtick. But it's a fact that an increasing percentage of Americans are overweight. Sixty-six percent of U.S. adults were overweight or obese in 2003 and 2004, according to researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health's Center for Human Nutrition.

Women ages 20 to 34 had the fastest rate of increase in obesity and in being overweight. Minorities and low-income folks are disproportionately affected. Eighty percent of black women age 40 and older are overweight and 50 percent are obese.

The researchers said that if the rates continue at their current pace, 75 percent of adults and nearly 24 percent of U.S. children and adolescents will be overweight or obese by 2015.

We know many adults are battling preventable illnesses because of their eating habits and lack of exercise. For example, an increasing number of Americans are developing Type 2 diabetes. About 40 percent of adults ages 40 to 74, or 54 million people, have pre-diabetes, a condition that raises a person's risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, heart disease or stroke, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

African Americans are twice as likely as whites of similar age to develop diabetes, the CDC says. Hispanic Americans, American Indians, Asian Americans and Pacific Islander Americans are also at high risk of Type 2 diabetes.

The fact is that all that weight is crushing people's bank accounts. There's a cost to being unhealthy. You often pay more for insurance. But keep within a healthy weight range and you save. For example, starting in 2009 Clarian Health Partners of Indianapolis plans to give employees a discount on their health-insurance premiums for, among other things, not being overweight.

McNaughton and Weinstein's book contains a "Money Calorie Counter," which details how much you can save by investing the money not spent on unhealthful foods. For example, let's say you give up the expensive mocha latte you get five days a week. At about $3.35 a cup (with whipped cream), you would save $871 and about 104,000 calories a year. If you get a 69-cent doughnut, add $179.40 a year and 46,800 calories. All told, that's $1,050.40 a year. If you were to put the money just from the latte in an investment each month that yields a 10 percent return over five years, you would have $5,620.64; in 10 years your pot would grow to $14,868.33, and in 20 years you could have $55,117.52

"Think about the debt that could be paid off," McNaughton and Weinstein write.

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