Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Cloudy 61° Cloudy
News >  Nation/World

Obesity treatment costs soaring

Nanci Hellmich USA Today

Private health insurance spending on illnesses related to obesity has increased more than tenfold since 1987, according to the first research to quantify the trend.

The growth in obesity has fueled a dramatic increase in the amount spent treating diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol and other weight-related illnesses, says the study, which is published Monday in the online journal Health Affairs.

Overall, employers and privately insured families spent $36.5 billion on obesity-related illnesses in 2002, up from $3.6 billion in 1987. That’s an increase from 2 percent of total health care spending on obesity in 1987 to 11.6 percent in 2002, the most recent year for which data are available. It cost an average of $1,244 more a year in 2002 to treat an obese person than it did a healthy-weight person. That’s up from $272 in 1987.

And the obesity problem is “only going to get worse,” says lead author Kenneth Thorpe, chairman of the department of health policy and management at Emory University, Atlanta. “The costs are up because so many more Americans are obese and because they’re being more aggressively treated for weight-related illnesses.”

About 31 percent of U.S. adults are obese, or 30 or more pounds over a healthy weight. That’s up from 23 percent in the late 1980s and 15 percent in the late 1970s.

Thorpe and his colleagues analyzed national surveys of about 14,000 people from 1987 and 2002. The data included health care spending, medical conditions and trips to the doctor, hospital and pharmacy.

The percentage of obese people being treated for high cholesterol, mental disorders and upper gastrointestinal disorders increased 10 percentage points from 1987 to 2002.

The increase in adult-onset diabetes contributed to a 64 percent rise in diabetes treatment from 1987 to 2002, and about 25 percent of the extremely obese (80 or more pounds overweight) were being treated for six or more conditions in 2002, compared with 14 percent in 1987.

Thorpe’s findings add to evidence that extra pounds increase medical costs. A study last year by RTI International in Raleigh, N.C., and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that obese and overweight Americans racked up about $75 billion in weight-related bills in 2003. Since much is covered by Medicare and Medicaid, taxpayers pay about half the total, the study found.

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox

Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.