Study Finds Obese People Have Higher Lifetime Medical Costs Despite Shorter Life Span
Obese U.S. residents in their 20s will incur lifetime medical bills between $5,340 and $29,460 more than their healthy-weight peers despite shorter life spans, according to a study published online in the journal Obesity, USA Today reports.
For the study, researchers at the not-for-profit research organization RTI International analyzed national data on medical costs and life expectancy. They found that although obese U.S. residents typically have shorter life spans, they have "much higher" lifetime medical costs than their same race, more "healthful weight" peers (Hellmich, USA Today, 6/10).
The study found that among 20-year-olds between 30 and 69 pounds overweight, white women incur on average $21,550 more in health expenses than peers with a "more healthful" weight, compared with $16,490 for white men, $12,290 for black men and $5,340 for black women. In addition, among 20-year-olds 70 or more pounds overweight, white women incur on average $29,460 more in additional lifetime expenses than healthy weight peers, compared with $23,750 for black women, $16,490 for white men and $14,580 for black men (USA Today graphic, 6/10).
Eric Finkelstein, lead author of the study and co-author of "The Fattening of America," said the higher costs incurred by white women compared with black women could be because white women generally use more health services at any weight.
According to USA Today, Finkelstein said companies should consider offering healthy options in cafeterias and vending machines, offering their employees financial incentives for losing weight and subsidizing gym memberships in order to reduce health care costs. However, Finkelstein noted that because people frequently change jobs, companies may not have any financial incentives to offer obesity treatments, such as bariatric surgery, under their health care plans. Gary Foster, president of the Obesity Society, said "There has to be a two-prong approach: weight-control services for employees and policy changes at work that make the difficult task of weight control easier for employees."
Finkelstein added that because many diseases associated with obesity, such as diabetes and heart disease, are common among older U.S. residents covered by Medicare, the federal government might have the greatest impetus to counter obesity (USA Today, 6/10).
An abstract of the study is available online.