The Healthcare Costs of Obesity

Obesity is one of the biggest drivers of preventable chronic diseases and healthcare costs in the United States. Currently, estimates for these costs range from $147 billion to nearly $210 billion per year. In addition, obesity is associated with job absenteeism, costing approximately $4.3 billion annually and with lower productivity while at work, costing employers $506 per obese worker per year.

As a person’s BMI increases, so do the number of sick days, medical claims and healthcare costs. For instance:
  • Obese adults spend 42 percent more on direct healthcare costs than adults who are a healthy weight.
  • Per capita healthcare costs for severely or morbidly obese adults (BMI >40) are 81 percent higher than for healthy weight adults. In 2000, around $11 billion was spent on medical expenditures for morbidly obese U.S. adults.
  • Moderately obese (BMI between 30 and 35) individuals are more than twice as likely as healthy weight individuals to be prescribed prescription pharmaceuticals to manage medical conditions.
  • Costs for patients presenting at emergency rooms with chest pains are 41 percent higher for severely obese patients, 28 percent higher for obese patients and 22 percent higher for overweight patients than for healthy-weight patients.

Reducing obesity, improving nutrition and increasing activity can help lower costs through fewer doctor’s office visits, tests, prescription drugs, sick days, emergency room visits and admissions to the hospital and lower the risk for a wide range of diseases.

A 2008 study by the Urban Institute, The New York Academy of Medicine and TFAH found that an investment of $10 per person in proven community-based programs to increase physical activity, improve nutrition and prevent smoking and other tobacco use could save the country more than $16 billion annually within five years. That’s a return of $5.60 for every $1 invested. Out of the $16 billion, Medicare could save more than $5 billion and Medicaid could save more than $1.9 billion. Also, expanding the use of prevention programs would better inform the most effective, strategic public and private investments that yield the strongest results.

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