Financially Speaking—How Costly is Obesity?

Financially Speaking—How Costly is Obesity?By adminPublished: 2009年11月7日Posted in: Health NewsTags: Obesity Comments [0]Digg it!Facebook

Childhood obesity in America has been described by many, including the U.S. Surgeon General, as an epidemic. Currently, more than 15 percent of 6- to 17-year-olds are overweight, an increase of 9 percent since the 1960s. And the problem doesn’t go away when these children grow up. Nearly three out of every four overweight teens will likely go on to become overweight adults at risk for a long list of serious and potentially fatal medical complications associated with excess weight. But there’s no question that the cost of obesity is not just a healthcare concern, but a financial one as well. But exactly how costly is obesity?

A recent study by researchers at RTI International, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, published on the Health Affairs’ website, estimated that the nation spends $147 billion annually on obesity, a cost that rivals smoking. They also determined that, on average, each obese person costs the nation $1,429 per year in additional medical expenses. Costs for an obese Medicare recipient are even greater. The obese also suffer an increased likelihood of co-morbid conditions, such as diabetes, some forms of cancer, osteoarthritis, heart disease and stroke, with costs specific to each disease that increases the burden on the consumer with out-of-pocket costs of treatment.

Many estimates of national healthcare spending have included the direct and indirect health costs of obesity, such as lost wages and early mortality. But what they have not considered are the psychosocial aspects of the disease, including psychotherapy, which is increasingly sought out by the obese for help in dealing with the psychological ramifications of the disease; overall less wages earned due to the psychosocial ramifications of the disease, such as being less-likely to marry or finish college; and weight management treatment, such as Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig, which falls outside of treatment covered completely by insurance. Also left unconsidered until now is the cost to the individual obese person. In other words, how much does it cost the individual to be, and remain, obese over the course of their lifetime considering all these factors?

To answer that question, Wellspring, the leading weight loss organization in the country, recently completed a study in which they calculated the cost of  being and remaining obese from age 18 to the end of life, measuring costs like medical bills, vocational costs, ancillary costs and more. The results found that obesity will cost the U.S. $297,951,964,800 for every person currently living with obesity. This breaks down to an individual cost of $532,057.08 per each obese individual over the course of their lives. Specifically, this is the out-of-pocket difference an obese person spends compared to non-obese peers.

These estimates make the assumption that the person will remain obese, meaning that if an 18-year-old obese American reached a normal weight in the next 3-12 months, they could potentially save more than $500,000 over the remainder of their lifetime. The estimates also make the assumption that everyone has health insurance, which we know is currently not the case for about 17 percent of the population. Obviously, the expenses would increase without insurance for any of the serious conditions associated with obesity, meaning that those without health insurance might not obtain treatment and certainly would not be able to pay for it out-of-pocket if they did.

In recent months, American Congressional health reformers have spent a lot of time debating health care spending and most of them agree that the nation’s medical outlays are too high. When seeking to cut costs, their primary target has been health insurance. And while health insurance is an important driver of healthcare costs, it seems apparent that health reform must address obesity.

Dr. Eric Finkelstein, director of RTI’s Public Health Economics Program, says “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 health care system as long as the prevalence of obesity remains high.” He recommends, in addition to addressing health inequities and reining in rising health spending, enacting reforms that reduce the prevalence of obesity and related risk factors, including poor diet and inactivity—reforms that “will require policy and environmental changes that extend far beyond what can be achieved through changes in health care financing and delivery.”

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