Obesity Costs Twice as Much

Obesity has twice the impact on our nation’s health care expenses than previously estimated, new research shows.

As politicians and pundits debate the repeal of President Obama’s health care plan, a new study shows that the treatment of obesity could fall under greater scrutiny when the legislation takes effect. The reason? Medical costs related to obesity may be twice as high as earlier estimates, according to one new report.

The study analyzed the actual weight of people, while previous studies only considered the self reported weight of patients, which was likely to be understated. Researchers also took into account the role of genetic factors in the patients, looking at the weight of each subject’s immediate family members to determine whether obesity ran in the family.

Researchers John Cawley, Ph.D., an associate professor at Cornell University, and Chad Meyerhoefer, Ph.D., professor of economics at Lehigh University, based their findings on data from a survey involving 24,000 adult patients from 2000 to 2005. They found that costs related to obesity medical care are close to $168 billion, representing 17 percent of medical costs in the U.S. The figure is a sizeable jump from last year’s estimate of $147 billion – a figure cited by federal health officials – which is 9 percent of the country’s total medical costs.

The earlier study speculated that people who suffer from obesity pay an additional $1,400 in medical expenses, but the new study estimates the added cost to be double that, or more than $2,800 per person in annual medical bills.

“It’s hard to find conditions that aren’t worsened or made more expensive by obesity,” Cawley told the Associated Press, adding that the health issues caused by carrying excess weight place a major burden on society.

Cawley and Lehigh conducted the study to inform people of the extensive costs associated with medical treatments related to obesity, and the economic consequence that obesity can have. Other experts note the need for increased funding for obesity fighting programs in the U.S., based on the latest findings.