Obesity, Obesity

By August 3, 2009November 2nd, 2009Commentary

A lot of print has been dedicated to Americans’  love of calories and consequent weight gain, with attendant health problems. A new study in Health Affairs estimates how much of our health spending might be attributable to obesity.  (Health Affairs Article)  An earlier study had estimated obesity-related costs at $78.5 billion in 1998 and the current update projects them at $147 billion in 2008.  About 25% of the population is said to be obese now, compared to around 18% in 1998. 

On average, across all payer types, spending on an obese person was 42% higher than on a non-obese one.    Per capita obese patient spending increased faster for private payers and Medicaid than for Medicare.  For Medicare more of this extra spending is attributable to drug and inpatient costs; for private payers it was due to each service type.  The rise in prevalence accounts for almost 90% of the increase in spending since 1998.  In other words, each obese person isn’t costing much more, but there are a lot more overweight patients. 

There are few treatments for obesity itself, so most of the health spending on obese persons is due to diseases associated with being overweight, including heart disease, hypertension and diabetes.  The primary message, however, is that getting more Americans back to a normal weight would significantly reduce at least the rate of growth in total health spending.  It also once again demonstrates the need for incentives to encourage individuals to act in a health manner or bear more of the increased costs they incur.

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