Obesity to Blame for Jump in Health Care Costs

Obesity to Blame for Jump in Health Care Costs

Obesity is costing the American health care system plenty, a new study finds.

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Researchers report that the percentage of U.S. health spending on treatment of obesity-related illnesses in adults climbed from just over 6 percent in 2001 to almost 8 percent in 2015 -- an increase of 29 percent.

There were significant differences between states, according to study co-author John Cawley, a professor of policy analysis and management at Cornell University.

"In 2015, states such as Arizona, California, Florida, New York and Pennsylvania devoted 5 to 6 percent of their total medical expenditures to treating obesity-related illness, whereas North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin spent more than twice that -- over 12 percent of all health care dollars in those states were used to treat obesity-related illness," Cawley said in a university news release.

And while obesity rates have risen sharply in the United States, there has been little research into the economic impact of this trend on individual states, the researchers added.

The study, published recently in the journal Clinical Chemistry, also examined the effects of obesity on type of insurance, including Medicaid and Medicare.

"Once again, we find dramatic differences across states in the fraction of Medicaid spending that is devoted to obesity-related illness," Cawley said.

"For example, over 2001-2015, Kentucky and Wisconsin devoted over 20 percent of their Medicaid spending to obesity-related illness," he said. "In contrast, in New York, 10.9 percent of Medicaid spending was devoted to obesity-related illness, and the average for the U.S. as a whole was 8.23 percent during that period."

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Such variations are driven by differences in obesity prevalence, health care access by obese individuals, how obesity is treated and prices of health care, Cawley explained.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains the causes and consequences of obesity.


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