Healthcare Costs for Overweight and Obese Patients Grow

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media , July 13, 2009

Healthcare payers spent a lot more per person to treat those who were obese and overweight in 2006 than they paid in 2001.

That's the message from a new federal report that ranked spending on adult patients categorized by body mass index. The increased spending per person is attributed to greater expense of managing chronic conditions, such as diabetes or high blood pressure.

Those who are obese and overweight tend to have one or more such diagnoses, and also tend to have more of them than they did in 2001.

Spending increased 82% for people who were obese in that period, from $167 billion to $303 billion. For people who were classified as overweight but not obese, healthcare spending increased 36% from $202 billion to $275 billion. For people of normal BMI, treatment costs increased 25%, from $208 billion to $260 billion.

On an average spending per person basis, spending went from $3,458 to $5,148 for those classified as obese. For those who were overweight, the cost rose from $2,792 to $3,636.  For each person of normal weight, the average costs rose from $2,607 to $3,315.

Additionally, the percentage of people classified as obese went from 23.6% of the population in 2001 to 27.2% in 2006, or 58.9 million. The number classified as normal or under weight stayed about the same. The percentage of people classified as overweight decreased slightly, from 35.4% to 34.9%, or 75.6 million. The percentage of people classified as normal weight dropped slightly from 39% to 36.1%, or 78.3 million.

The report said variables influencing higher costs included asthma, ischemic heart disease, angina, heart attack stroke, emphysema, and arthritis. Estimates for each year are in that year's dollars. Spending included the cost of doctor, hospital outpatient and emergency room visits, hospitalizations, home healthcare services, dental visits, other medical expenses and prescription drugs.

The report was prepared as part of a series of briefs issued from data from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey and was written by Marie Stagnitti of the Agency for Health Research and Quality.

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