NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Health-Care Costs Per Person for Obesity Exceed Smoking

March 12, 2002

In terms of medical costs, obesity turns out to be worse than smoking or alcohol abuse and "is like aging 20 years," when measured by the onset of chronic health problems, according to Roland Sturm, the author of a Rand Corp. study on the subject.

According to the study, which appears in Health Affairs, to the average adult's health care costs of roughly $1,500 per year:

  • Obesity added $395 to annual per person health-care service costs, based on a survey of 10,000 people.
  • Smoking added $230 and problem drinking cost $150.
  • That compares with $225 attributable to the process of aging 20 years.
  • Simply being overweight without being obese costs $125 annually, on average.

Medical experts calculate that about one in three Americans is overweight -- and one in five is obese based on the body-mass index. The BMI is an individual's weight divided by height squared. Between 1991 and 2000, obesity in the U.S. rose 60 percent while smoking rates have been cut roughly in half since 1964.

Experts hope the study will correct the widely-held impression that smoking, drinking and substance abuse are bigger problems than obesity.

Source: Rhonda L. Rundle, "Obesity Tops Smoking for Medical Costs," Wall Street Journal, March 12, 2002.


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