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Obesity Drives Up Health Care Costs Tenfold

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As further proof that Americans’ ravenous appetite for unhealthy food is spinning wildly out of control, health care professionals report that the cost of caring for obese patients as shot up 1000% over a 15-year period.

Obesity Drives Up Health Care Costs Tenfold

Comparing the 1987 National Medical Expenditure Survey and the 2002 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, annual spending on obesity-related illness increased from $3.6 billion to $36.5 billion.

This number required 11.6% of all private healthcare spending, compared to only two percent in 1987, driving up insurance premiums all over the country, according to the article published in Health Affairs.

Lead author of the study, Emory University’s Kenneth Thorpe, says that obesity should be given the same level of concern from the public as smoking has gotten.

“We need to have the same type of societal attention on this issue that we gave to smoking 20 years ago,” Thorpe said.

Thorpe attributes the increase in spending to two factors: the increase in diseases related to obesity, such as adult on-set diabetes (type 2), high blood pressure, upper gastrointestinal disorders, high blood sugar, high cholesterol; and the rising cost of per-patient care.

Looking only at privately insured adults aged 18-64, the survey scanned spending on the top 20 health conditions.

“We found overwhelmingly that the rise in private insurance spending was traced to the fact that we were treating more and more people with a variety of chronic health conditions,” Thorpe said.

The bulk of spending seemed to rest the obese. In 2001, the privately insured overweight cost insurance companies an additional $1,244 per person than those of healthier weights. In 1987, the gap was only $272.

Doubling the 1987 number, 15.5% of obese adults (30 or more pounds overweight) were treated for six or more medical conditions. Twenty-five percent of the extremely obese (80 pounds or more overweight) were being treated for six or more medical conditions.

Type 2 diabetes showed the most dramatic increase. Treatment of adult-onset diabetes increased by 64% between 1987 and 2001.

Almost a third of Americans are obese and Thorpe says more needs to be done to curb a growing epidemic in health-related matters, nipping them in the bud instead of only addressing the cost issues.

“Most of what is going on now to try to control health care spending is missing the target,” Thorpe says. “Companies are tweaking co-pays and talking about health care savings accounts when really they need to redirect their focus to reduce the prevalence of obesity among children and workers.”

Obesity Drives Up Health Care Costs Tenfold
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