KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Study Finds Obesity Responsible For Significant Portion Of Health Spending

A new report finds nearly 10 percent of health care costs are due to obesity and per capita medical spending is significantly higher for obese people.

The Wall Street Journal/AP report: "New research shows medical spending averages $1,400 more a year for an obese person than for someone who's normal weight. Overall obesity-related health spending reaches $147 billion, double what it was nearly a decade ago, says the study published Monday by the journal Health Affairs. The higher expense reflects the costs of treating diabetes, heart disease and other ailments far more common for the overweight, concluded the study by government scientists and the nonprofit research group RTI International. RTI health economist Eric Finkelstein offers a blunt message for lawmakers trying to revamp the health-care system: 'Unless you address obesity, you're never going to address rising health-care costs.'"

The Journal notes: "Obesity-related conditions now account for 9.1% of all medical spending, up from 6.5% in 1998, the study concluded. Health economists have long warned that obesity is a driving force behind the rise in health spending. For example, diabetes costs the nation $190 billion a year to treat, and excess weight is the single biggest risk factor for developing diabetes. Moreover, obese diabetics are the hardest to treat, with higher rates of foot ulcers and amputations, among other things. The new study's look at per-capita spending may offer a shock to the wallets of people who haven't yet heeded straight health warnings" (7/27).

Meanwhile, the New York Times reports: "Obese Americans spend about 42 percent more on health care than normal-weight Americans, according to a new study based on 2006 figures." The Times notes: "'Most of the excess spending is for prescription drugs needed to manage obesity-related conditions, said Eric A. Finkelstein, one of the study's authors and the director of the public health economics program at the Research Triangle Insitute, a nonprofit research organization. The results were presented on Monday at the first Weight of the Nation conference, which was held in Washington by officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention" (Rabin, 7/27).

According to the News & Observer, "The report, issued two days before President Barack Obama visits the Triangle to press his message for health care reform, suggests that 'policy and environmental changes' are necessary to help people eat healthier and get more exercise" (Avery, 7/27).

U.S. News & World Report also covers the study and offers "five lessons from the nation's obesity report card" (7/27).

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