Obesity Weighs on Everyone

You look in the mirror or you step on the scales and then say to yourself, "I must go on a diet." How you go about losing your unwanted weight is essentially a personal matter. And whether you are successful or not in taking off excess weight has primarily been of interest only to you, your family, and your doctor.

But the obesity battle is being taken to the US taxpayers. Currently, it is estimated that almost 64% of American adults are either overweight or obese. A new study released by the CDC estimates that taxpayers paid about half of the $75 billion spent in 2003 on obesity-attributable medical expenditures. This works out to $150 to $200 per taxpayer.

Comment: These numbers give new meaning to the phrase, "Am I my brother's keeper?" How should we react if we see an overweight person ordering a high-calorie, super-sized meal in a fast-food restaurant? It would seem that now we need to watch not only our own weight but the weight of our neighbors as well.

Barbara K. Hecht, Ph.D.
Frederick Hecht, M.D.
Medical Editors, MedicineNet.com

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Obesity Costs States Billions in Medical Expenses

A new study by researchers at RTI International and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that U.S. obesity-attributable medical expenditures reached $75 billion in 2003 and that taxpayers finance about half of these costs through Medicare and Medicaid. The findings will be published in this month's issue of Obesity Research.

Total state-level expenditure estimates in 2003 dollars range from $87 million in Wyoming to $7.7 billion in California. Obesity-attributable Medicaid expenditure estimates range from $23 million in Wyoming to $3.5 billion in New York. Medicare expenditures range from $15 million in Wyoming to $1.7 billion in California.

"Obesity has become a crucial health problem for our nation, and these findings show that the medical costs alone reflect the significance of the challenge," said HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson. "Of course the ultimate cost to Americans is measured in chronic disease and early death. We must take responsibility both as individuals and working together to reduce the health toll associated with obesity."

The estimated percentage of annual medical expenditures in each state attributable to obesity ranges from 4 percent in Arizona to 6.7 percent in Alaska. For Medicare expenditures, the percentage ranges from 3.9 percent for Arizona to 9.8 percent for Delaware. For Medicaid recipients, the percentages are much higher - ranging from 7.7 percent in Rhode Island to 15.7 percent in Indiana.

"These estimates of obesity-attributable medical expenditures present the best available information concerning the economic impact of obesity at the state level," said Eric A. Finkelstein, an RTI economist and lead author of the article. The figures confirm earlier findings that obesity accounts for a significant, and preventable, portion of the nation's medical bill.

"This report is alarming given that obesity has been shown to promote many chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, several types of cancer, and gallbladder disease," said Dr. Julie Gerberding, CDC director. "The long-term effects of obesity on our nation's health and on our economy should not be underestimated."

According to CDC's 1999-2000 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), an estimated 64 percent of U.S. adults are either overweight (33 percent) or obese (31 percent). Another CDC survey - the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) 1998-2000 (pooled data) revealed that self-reported obesity prevalence ranges from 15 percent in Colorado to 25 percent in West Virginia. Among Medicare recipients, obesity prevalence ranges from 12 percent in Hawaii to 30 percent in Washington, D.C. Obesity prevalence among Medicaid recipients is much higher, ranging from 21 percent in Rhode Island to 44 percent in Indiana.

State-Level Estimates of Annual Medical Expenditures Attributable to Obesity, by Eric A. Finkelstein and Ian C. Fiebelkorn, RTI International, and Guijing Wang, CDC, appears in the January 2004 issue of the journal Obesity Research, published by the North American Association for the Study of Obesity. The article is available on-line at www.obesityresearch.org beginning January 23.

Source: Centers for Disease Control press release, January 21, 2004 (www.cdc.gov)


Last Editorial Review: 1/22/2004