Obesity Accounts for 21 Percent of U.S. Healthcare Costs

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ITHACA, N.Y.—Obesity now accounts for almost 21 percent of U.S. healthcare costs—more than twice the previous estimates, according to a new Cornell University study.

The research, which is the first to show the causal effect of obesity on medical care costs, uses new methods and makes a stronger case for government intervention to prevent obesity, the authors wrote in the January issue of the Journal of Health Economics (http://bit.ly/uhcEDr).

The study reports that an obese person incurs medical costs that are $2,741 higher (in 2005 dollars) than if they were not obese. Nationwide, that translates into $190.2 billion per year, or 20.6 percent of national health expenditures. Previous estimates had pegged the cost of obesity at $85.7 billion, or 9.1 percent of national health expenditures.

“Historically we’ve been underestimating the benefit of preventing and reducing obesity," said lead author John Cawley, Cornell professor of policy analysis and management and of economics. “Obesity raises the risk of cancer, stroke, heart attack and diabetes. For any type of surgery, there are complications with anesthesia, with healing [for the obese]. … Obesity raises the costs of treating almost any medical condition. It adds up very quickly."

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