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Obesity Almost as Expensive as Smoking

In 1998, Americans spent $78.5 billion in overweight and obesity-related medical costs, which works out to 9.1 percent of all national medical expenditures for the year. Medicare and Medicaid, the main public insurers, paid almost half of these costs.

Even with insurance, overweight and especially obese people spent more of their own money on medical care than people who weighed within the normal range. The 1998 figures show that overweight and obese individuals paid an extra 11.4 percent and 26.1 percent, respectively, on out-of-pocket medical costs.

More than half of Americans are either overweight or obese, and the prevalence of both conditions is on the rise, say Eric A. Finkelstein, Ph.D., of RTI International and colleagues. "As with smoking, there is a clear motivation for payers to consider strategies aimed at reducing the prevalence of these conditions," Finkelstein says.

For their study, which was published in the journal Health Affairs, the researchers used national health interview and medical expenditure surveys for 9,867 adults age 19 and older to calculate the costs of overweight and obesity nationwide. Medicare recipients had the highest percentage of overweight and obesity combined, while Medicaid patients had the highest rates of obesity.

According to Finkelstein and colleagues, previous studies suggest that Medicaid recipients may be more likely to smoke or drink too much alcohol, which could complicate their obesity treatment. Overweight and obesity-related medical costs are also highest among these two groups. The high rates of spending among elderly Medicare patients may be due in part to their age, the researchers suggest., Source: Health Behavior News Service


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