Obesity Costs U.S. About $147 Billion Annually

July 29, 2009
Annual medical expenditures attributable to obesity have doubled in less than a decade and may be as high as $147 billion per year, according to a new study by researchers at RTI International, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The study reports that between 1998 and 2006, the prevalence of obesity (body mass index greater than 30) increased by 37 percent. This increase is responsible for 89 percent of the increase in obesity costs that occurred during this time period.

The results reveal that obesity is now responsible for 9.1 percent of annual medical expenditures, compared with 6.5 percent in 1998. The findings also show that an obese person has $1,429 per year more medical costs, or about 42 percent more costs, than someone of normal weight.

Costs for an obese Medicare recipient are even greater, which researchers attributed largely to the added prescription drug benefit. According to the study results, Medicare prescription drug payments for obese individuals are roughly $600 more per year than drug payments for normal weight beneficiaries. The researchers also found that 8.5 percent of Medicare expenditures, 11.8 percent of Medicaid expenditures and 12.9 percent of private payer expenditures are attributable to obesity.

A Significant Burden

"Although bariatric surgery and other treatments for obesity are increasing in popularity, in actuality these treatments remain rare," said Eric Finkelstein, Ph.D., director of RTI’s Public Health Economics Program and the study's lead author. "As a result, the medical costs attributable to obesity are almost entirely a result of costs generated from treating the diseases that obesity promotes. Thus, obesity will continue to impose a significant burden on the health care system as long as the prevalence of obesity remains high."

The analysis was based on data from the 1998 and 2006 Medical Expenditure Panel Surveys and the study was funded by the CDC Foundation.

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