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CBO: Obesity Pumps Up Healthcare Costs

Janice Simmons, for HealthLeaders Media, September 14, 2010

During the past two decades, the adult population in the United States has become not only far more heavy but far more expensive when it comes to providing healthcare coverage, according to a new Congressional Budget Office (CBO) issue brief.

From 1987 to 2007, the percentage of adults who were overweight or obese increased from 44% to 63%, with almost two-thirds of the adult population now falling into one of those categories. The share of obese adults rose particularly rapidly, more than doubling from 13% to 28%.

That sharp increase in the percentage of adults who are overweight or obese pose "an important public health challenge," the CBO analysts note. Those adults are more likely to develop serious illnesses, including coronary heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension—a trend that also affects healthcare spending.

This corresponding healthcare spending per adult (in 2009 dollars) rose almost 80% from 1987 to 2007, from about $2,560 to $4,550—led in part by the "development and diffusion" of new medical technology, more extensive insurance coverage, the aging of the population, and rising inflation-adjusted prices for healthcare services. That spending grew among all weight categories, but in the data that CBO analyzed, the rate of growth was much more rapid among the obese population.

For example, between 1987 and 2007, per capita spending grew by 65% for normal-weight adults and by 61% for overweight adults. However, it grew much faster for obese adults—by 111%. As a result, obese adults had per capita spending that was far higher when compared to spending for normal-weight adults in 2007 than it was in 1987: that difference rose from 8% in 1987 to 38% 20 years later.

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