News Release: Research, School of Public Health

May 7,  2009

Emory University Report Cited During National Briefing on Obesity's Economic Impact

News Article ImageKenneth Thorpe, PhD

If the prevalence of obesity were the same today as in 1987, health care spending in the United States would be approximately $200 billion less each year, according to the report "Weighty Matters:  How Obesity Drives Poor Health and Health Spending in the U.S." 

The report — authored by Emory University’s Kenneth Thorpe, PhD, Lydia Ogden, MA, MPP, and Katya Galactionova, MA — was released today at the National Press Club in Washington during the National Business Group on Health’s briefing on obesity.

In 2007, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that more than one-third of adults in the United States, over 72 million people, were obese. The report also notes that in the past 25 years, childhood obesity has tripled. As obesity rates have climbed, so too have rates of associated health conditions.

"The report summarizes previous research and presents new evidence of the role obesity plays in rising rates of chronic disease and health spending," says Thorpe, Executive Director of Emory's Institute for Advanced Policy Solutions, and Robert W. Woodruff Professor and Chair of the Department of Health Policy and Management at Emory's Rollins School of Public Health.

"Health spending would almost certainly fall if people ate healthier, exercised and stopped using tobacco. Congress and employers both have a role to play in reducing the economic burdens of obesity and associated chronic conditions. The good news for everyone is that prevention works," adds Thorpe.

Thorpe attended the National Press Club briefing with representatives from the National Business Group on Health and Pitney Bowes to provide updated information quantifying the impact of obesity on health care costs, examples of what employers are doing to combat obesity, and proposed policy changes that would reduce health costs associated with obesity. 

"Employers have invested tremendous resources into health and wellness programs because they know healthier workers mean a more productive workforce able to compete globally," adds Helen Darling, President of the National Business Group on Health, which represents more than 300 large employers providing coverage to 55 million Americans. "However, employers need help. Policymakers need to step up and make common-sense tax-code changes to encourage employee participation in programs that lead to healthier lifestyles and sustain responsible, long-term economic growth."


The Robert W. Woodruff Health Sciences Center of Emory University is an academic health science and service center focused on missions of teaching, research, health care and public service. Its components include schools of medicine, nursing, and public health; Yerkes National Primate Research Center; the Emory Winship Cancer Institute; and Emory Healthcare, the largest, most comprehensive health system in Georgia. The Woodruff Health Sciences Center has a $2.3 billion budget, 17,000 employees, 2,300 full-time and 1,900 affiliated faculty, 4,300 students and trainees, and a $4.9 billion economic impact on metro Atlanta.

Learn more about Emory’s health sciences:
Twitter: @emoryhealthsci

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