Obesity Reported to Cost U.S. $93B a Year

By LAURA MECKLER
Associated Press Writer

May 14, 2003, 8:40 AM EDT

WASHINGTON -- Obesity is costing not only American lives, but dollars too. A study tallies that $93 billion per year goes to treat health problems of people who are overweight.

About half that tab is picked up by the government through Medicare, which provides care to the elderly, and Medicaid, which serves the poor.

Overall, spending attributed to excessive weight made up 9 percent of all medical spending in 1998, researchers reported Wednesday on the Web site of the journal Health Affairs.

They arrived at the figure by comparing the medical expenses of adults who are not overweight with the expenses of those similar in most ways but who were overweight or obese .

The difference in spending on people who are overweight and those of normal weight were, for the most part, not statistically significant by themselves. But major differences appeared for those who were obese: The average increase in spending over a person of normal weight was $732 per year -- 37.4 percent more.

Altogether, medical spending attributable to extra weight totaled $78.5 billion in 1998, or $92.6 billion in 2002, inflation-adjusted dollars.

The financial burden now rivals that attributable to smoking, the authors say, arguing that government and health insurance companies should offer incentives to help people lose weight.

"Although some insurers subsidize memberships to health clubs to promote physical activity, most do not include incentives to encourage weight loss," wrote authors Eric Finkelstein and Ian Fiebelkorn of RTI International in North Carolina and Guijing Wang of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

The study examined a representative sample of 9,867 adults ages 19 and older, with data from the 1998 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey and the 1996 and 1997 National Health Interview Surveys. The research was paid for by the CDC.

Weight was assessed using body-mass index, a height-to-weight ratio. People with a BMI of 30 or above are considered obese; those between 25 and 30 are considered overweight.

Someone who is 5 feet, 5 inches tall who weighs 150 pounds would have a BMI of 25. At a weight of 180 pounds, this person's BMI would be 30.

On the Net: Health Affairs: http://www.healthaffairs.org.

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