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Obesity Costs U.S. $147 billion Annually

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, July 28, 2009

The United States is spending as much as $147 billion each year for obesity-related healthcare–representing nearly 10% of all annual medical costs–and that figure is expanding along with the nation's waistline, according to a joint study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Research Triangle Institute.

The study titled–Annual Medical Spending Attributable to Obesity: Payer- and Service-Specific Estimates—was released on Monday, the opening day of the CDC's Weight of the Nation conference in Washington, DC.

"Although bariatric surgery and other treatments for obesity are increasing in popularity, in actuality these treatments remain rare," says Eric Finkelstein, 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 healthcare system as long as the prevalence of obesity remains high."

The study reports that obesity increased by 37% between 1998 and 2006 and that increase is responsible for 89% of the overall increase in obesity costs that occurred during that period. In addition, the proportion of all annual medical costs that are due to obesity increased from 6.5% in 1998 to 9.1% in 2006. This total includes payment by Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurers, and includes prescription drug spending.

Overall, obese people spent $1,429 (42%) more for medical care in 2006 than did normal weight people. These estimates were compiled using national data that compare medical expenses for normal weight and obese people.

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