NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Heavy Burden: Obesity Health Bills

February 13, 2004

Taxpayers foot the doctor's bill for more than half of obesity-related medical costs, which reached a total of $75 billion in 2003, according to a new study.

The public pays about $39 billion a year -- or about $175 per person -- for obesity through Medicare and Medicaid programs, which cover sicknesses caused by obesity including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, several types of cancer and gallbladder disease.

The study, in the journal Obesity Research, evaluates state-by-state expenditures related to weight problems, finds:

  • States spend about one-twentieth of their medical costs on obesity -- from a low of 4 percent in Arizona to a high of 6.7 percent in Alaska.
  • California spends the most on health care for the obese, $7.7 billion, and Wyoming spends the least, $87 million.
  • About 64 percent of adults in the United States are either overweight or obese, according to the CDC's 1999-2000 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

Taxpayers are financing the costs of overweight and obesity for those in public sector health plans. That alone should provide justification for governments to find cost-effective strategies to reduce the burdens of obesity, say the researchers.

Obesity should be treated and prevented more aggressively through public health programs to encourage healthy diets and exercise, it would make for happier lives, and also save medical expenses, say experts.

Source: "Study finds $75 billion spent in '03 to treat overweight," Associated Press, January 24, 2004, and MSNBC.COM.

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