NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Costs Of Obesity, Drinking, Smoking And Growing Older

April 19, 2002

Many behavioral risk factors, such as smoking, drinking and obesity, cause chronic health conditions, which in turn, drive up health care costs. Although much research has been conducted on behavioral risks like drinking and smoking, only recently have public health advocates began to focus attention on the health care costs of being over-weight. Furthermore, the problem is more widespread than previously thought. For example, one survey found 36 percent of the population is overweight, and approximately two-thirds of the overweight are obese. However, when surveyed, people often under-report weight and over-report height.

Measuring weight using the body-mass index -- which is calculated by weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared -- researchers find:

  • Being overweight (BMI of 25-29.9) increases yearly health care costs by $125, while obesity (BMI of 30 and above) is associated with an average increase of $395 per year.
  • The cost of smoking ($230) is far lower, while problem drinking adds $150 in additional health care spending.
  • Aging accounts for $225 (annually) in additional health care spending per person.

A surprise finding is that obesity is associated with higher costs for chronic health conditions than either smoking or drinking. Apparently, obese individuals consume 36 percent more inpatient/out patient health care costs and 77 percent greater prescription medication expenditure. Only aging (20 additional years) results in higher medicine costs. More ominous, a higher proportion of the population is obese than drinks heavily. It may take years to fully realize the adverse effects of obesity. Thus the full cost of weight-related health care spending has yet to be realized.

Source: Roland Sturm, "The Effects of Obesity, Smoking, and Drinking on Medical Problems and Costs," Datawatch, Health Affairs, March/April 2002.


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