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Analysis

Modifiable Health Risks Add $730B to U.S. Healthcare Spending

By John Commins  
   September 30, 2020

A new study found that 27% of U.S. personal healthcare expenses were attributable to risk factors such as obesity and smoking.

Modifiable health risks such as smoking, obesity and high blood pressure have been associated with more than $730 billion in U.S. healthcare spending, according to a study published Wednesday in The Lancet Public Health.

The study, conducted by researchers from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington School of Medicine, and wellness advisors Vitality Group, looked at the $2.7 trillion spent on U.S. healthcare in 2016, and determined that 27% of the spending was attributable to five modifiable risk factors, including; overweight and obesity, $238.5 billion; high blood pressure, $179.9 billion; high fasting plasma glucose, $171.9 billion; dietary risks, $143.6 billion; and tobacco smoke, $130.0 billion.

"Given that U.S. healthcare expenses are almost double that of other developed nations, we set out to understand how much of these expenses could be attributed to modifiable risk factors," said study author Francois Millard, chief actuarial officer at Vitality.

"While the relationship between lifestyle risks and medical conditions is understood, this is the first study to offer a comprehensive analysis of health spending related to such risks," he said. "This can help inform how we as a society invest our resources and why health should be part of all policy discussions, not just those related to sickness."

Researchers used IHME's Disease Expenditure Study 2016 to estimate U.S. personal healthcare spending by condition, age, and sex and merged these estimates with population attributable fraction estimates for 84 modifiable risk factors from the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study 2017 to produce estimates of spending by condition attributable to these risk factors.

Modifiable, treatable risks were strongly linked to costly medical conditions – including cardiovascular disease, cancers, diabetes, and chronic respiratory diseases. That spending increased significantly with age, with the greatest proportion of spending associated with people aged 65 years and older (44.8%).

"Looking at risks allows U.S. to better understand where these costs start, since unmanaged risk factors often lead to more serious health conditions later in life," said study senior author Joseph Dieleman, a health economist and associate professor at IHME.

"While we can't draw conclusions about possible reductions in spending from this research, the findings illustrate the huge costs tied to poor diets, high blood pressure, smoking, and obesity," Dieleman said.

 "Moving forward, it's crucial to focus on preventing and managing these key risks before they turn into costly diseases, so that more people have the chance to live a long and healthy life."

“Given that U.S. healthcare expenses are almost double that of other developed nations, we set out to understand how much of these expenses could be attributed to modifiable risk factors.”

John Commins is a content specialist and online news editor for HealthLeaders, a Simplify Compliance brand.


KEY TAKEAWAYS

The study looked at the $2.7 trillion spent on U.S. healthcare in 2016.

Researchers determined that 27% of the spending was attributable to five modifiable risk factors.

Modifiable, treatable risks were strongly linked to costly medical conditions – including cardiovascular disease, cancers, diabetes, and chronic respiratory diseases.

That spending increased significantly with age, with the greatest proportion of spending (44.8%) associated with people 65 and older. 


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