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SOA on Obesity Costs

By January 26, 2011Commentary

Health care, like most things human, cycles among various hot issues.  One of the current ones is the role of obesity in health care costs.  The Society of Actuaries chimes in with a report on Obesity and its Relation to Mortality and Morbidity Costs, a hefty tome itself.   (SOA Study) The authors looked at over 500 research articles to come up with a method for estimating the impact of the condition on costs in the United States and Canada.  They found that cost to be $300 billion in 2009.

The authors included both medical costs and loss economic productivity.  Most of these costs relate to disease associated with obesity such as diabetes, hypertension, kidney disease, cardiovascular disease and osteoarthritis.  These relationships are well-established by substantial research.  The authors attempted to eliminate the effects of factors other than obesity on these diseases and their costs, so that they were only finding the effects of that condition.  The authors also note that being overweight has significant social and psychological costs associated with it as well, primarily due to negative perceptions by ones-self and others.

Amazingly, over 30% of the US population is obese, a percent that has grown rapidly over recent decades.  These people are at significantly greater risk of having serious disease, disability and shorter lives.  It is apparent that being obese is not good for the person or for the system.  A lot of effort is being devoted to weight reduction programs for those that are obese and to helping lower weight people avoid putting on pounds. To date, it is not clear that the programs are having an impact.  If they are, the results should show up in the number of Americans classified as overweight or obese and ultimately in the use of services and costs associated with these patients.

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