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Media Contact: Tia McCollors 20 October 2004    
  (404) 727-5692   Print  | Email ]

Obesity Rates Increase Nation's Health Care Spending by 27 Percent
Rising obesity rates alone account for 27% of the growth in health spending from 1987-2001, according to a study by health policy researchers at Emory University. Published in the October 20 issue of Health Affairs, the article attributes the increase mainly to treatment costs for the obesity-related conditions of diabetes, hyperlipidemia, and heart disease.

A team of researchers led by health policy and management professor and chair Kenneth Thorpe, PhD, of the Rollins School of Public Health, examined the contribution of obesity-related factors to the growth in spending for three conditions clinically linked to obesity. Over the fourteen-year period - during a time when the prevalence of obesity increased to nearly 24% of the population - the obesity trend accounted for more than 38% of diabetes spending growth, 22% of spending growth for hyperlipidemia and 41% for heart disease.

"The impact of weight on per capita spending is sizable," says Dr. Thorpe, who is also the chairman of the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University. "Although we attributed the growth in health care spending to three of the major conditions, spending is also affected by the rising prevalence of gallstones, some forms of cancer, and other obesity-linked diseases."

The data for the study analysis was drawn from two surveys conducted by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) that provide nationally representative estimates for healthcare spending for the U.S. population. Using the 1987 National Medical Expenditure Survey (NMES), the researchers calculated the Body Mass Index (BMI) of respondents according to their self-reported measures of height and weight and compared it to calculations of BMI reported by respondents of the 2001 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, Household Component (MEPS-HC). Respondents to both surveys also self-reported medical conditions. Among adults, the sample sizes were 20,989 for the NMES and 21,460 for the MEPS.

The researchers wrote that "growth in obesity and spending on obese people accounted for 27% of the growth in inflation-adjusted per capita health care spending between 1987 and 2001. To date, there is no evidence that the rise in the share of the U.S. population with BMI greater than 30.00 is abating. These results suggest that future cost containment efforts need to attack the rising prevalence and costs of obesity head on. This will require a focus on developing effective interventions to promote weight loss among obese people."

The researchers found significant differences in mean per capita health care spending between the obese and normal weight categories in 1987 and 2001. Among the differences cited are:

- The estimated per capita health care spending in 1987 (based on 2001 dollars) was $2,188 overall, with obese people spending 15.2% more per capita more than normal weight people.

- The year 2001 brought larger differences in health care spending by weight category. Spending among the obese shot to 37% higher than among normal-weight people.

Other researchers involved in the study were Curtis Florence, PhD, and David Howard, PhD, assistant professors in the Department of Health Policy and Management, Rollins School of Public Health; and Peter Joski, a research associate.

The full text of their Health Affairs paper can be accessed on the Web at

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