NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Obesity Carries Heavy Medical Bill

May 14, 2003

Americans' extra weight costs the nation as much as $93 billion in annual medical bills, and the government pays about half of that amount, concludes a study funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is the highest estimate yet of the medical costs of overweight and obesity. It's comparable to the annual medical bill for smoking, which was estimated at about $76 billion a few years ago.

The new study by three economists, published in Health Affairs online, includes direct medical costs but not indirect costs such as time off work.

  • Overall, annual medical costs for an obese person are about 37.7 percent more, or $732 higher, than the costs for someone of normal weight.
  • An obese recipient of Medicare (a program for the elderly) costs $1,486 more a year than one of healthy weight.
  • An obese patient on Medicaid (a program for the needy) costs $864 more than a normal weight Medicaid recipient.
  • The annual medical spending attributable to overweight and obesity is about 9.1 percent of national medical costs. Those attributable to smoking range from 6.5 percent and 14.4 percent.

"The government is going to get slam-dunked in future obesity costs if it doesn't address the problem now," says Anne Wolf of the University of Virginia Medical School.

"As the population ages and the prevalence of obesity continues to rise, Medicare is going to be picking up the health care tab for these people," she says.

Source: Nanci Hellmich, "An overweight America comes with a hefty price tag," USA Today, May 14, 2003.

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