Obesity drives US health care costs up by 29 percent, varies by state

February 7, 2018, Cornell University
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

The prevalence of obesity has risen dramatically in the U.S., but there has been little information about the economic impact of this trend for individual states.

Recent research by John Cawley, professor of policy analysis and management at Cornell University, provides new insights on how individual states are affected by the health care costs of obesity.

"We have, for the first time, estimated the percentage of health care spending that is devoted to obesity, using microdata for each state," said Cawley, who co-authored "The Impact of Obesity on Medical Costs and Labor Market Outcomes in the U.S." with Adam Biener of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and Chad Meyerhoefer of Lehigh University.

Large differences exist across states, Cawley said. "In 2015, states such as Arizona, California, Florida, New York and Pennsylvania devoted five to six 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."

Overall, the authors found the percent of U.S. national medical expenditures devoted to treating obesity-related illness in adults rose from 6.13 percent in 2001 to 7.91 percent in 2015, an increase of 29 percent.

The publication reports results by payer type, including private health insurance companies, Medicare and Medicaid. "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 2001-15, Kentucky and Wisconsin devoted over 20 percent of their Medicaid spending to obesity-related illness. 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."

By analyzing data for 2001-15 from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, a nationally representative survey of Americans' health care utilization and costs, the authors estimated the percent of health care costs that were associated with adult obesity for the most populous states.

Estimates could not be generated for less populous states because of a scarcity of information about their residents in the data. Previous estimates of the health care costs of obesity by state were not based on microdata for each state but on assumptions about how national costs should be apportioned to different states.

These differences across states are driven by a number of factors, such as differences in obesity prevalence, health care access by obese individuals, how obesity is treated and prices of health care, Cawley said.

Explore further: Severe obesity costs Medicaid $8 billion annually and rising

More information: Adam Biener et al. The Impact of Obesity on Medical Care Costs and Labor Market Outcomes in the US, Clinical Chemistry (2017). DOI: 10.1373/clinchem.2017.272450 , clinchem.aaccjnls.org/content/64/1/108

Related Stories

Severe obesity costs Medicaid $8 billion annually and rising

November 2, 2015
Nearly 11 percent or $8 billion of the cost to treat severe obesity was paid for by Medicaid in 2013, ranging from a low of $5 million in Wyoming to $1.3 billion in California. Research led by Y. Claire Wang, ScD, associate ...

More sought mental health specialty care in 2008 to 2015

January 12, 2018
(HealthDay)—Between 2008 and 2015 there was an increase in the number of U.S. adults who received outpatient mental health care in the specialty sector, according to a study published in the December issue of Health Affairs.

Increased risk of complications with bariatric surgery

January 18, 2018
(HealthDay)—Bariatric surgery is associated with lower risks of obesity-related comorbidities but a clinically important increased risk for complications compared with medical treatment, according to a study published in ...

Excess weight increases costs across health care settings

June 2, 2017
(HealthDay)—Excess weight is associated with increased costs across health care settings, with the highest percentage increases seen in costs for medications, according to research published online May 22 in Obesity Reviews.

Smokers, the obese, have markedly higher health-care costs than peers

January 6, 2015
A new study finds that smokers and the obese ring up substantially higher annual health care costs than their nonsmoking, non-obese peers. The added costs are highest among women, non-Hispanic whites and older adults, the ...

Obesity more expensive to treat than smoking

January 19, 2015
(HealthDay)—Annual health care expenses are substantially higher for smokers and the obese, compared with nonsmokers and people of healthy weight, according to a report published online Dec. 24 in Public Health. In fact, ...

Recommended for you

Children are less likely to be obese if mothers stick to a healthy lifestyle

July 4, 2018
Children of mothers who follow a healthy lifestyle have a substantially lower risk of developing obesity than children of mothers who don't make healthy lifestyle choices, finds a study published in The BMJ.

Normalisation of 'plus-size' risks hidden danger of obesity, study finds

June 22, 2018
New research warns that the normalisation of 'plus-size' body shapes may be leading to an increasing number of people underestimating their weight—undermining efforts to tackle England's ever-growing obesity problem.

Nearly all adolescents have eating, activity or weight-related issues

June 22, 2018
A new study from the University of Minnesota School of Public Health found that nearly all young people have struggles with eating, activity and weight as they move from adolescence to adulthood.

Obesity plagues rural America

June 19, 2018
(HealthDay)—Country folk are being hit harder by the U.S. obesity epidemic than city dwellers, two new government studies show.

Binging, purging and fasting more common in overweight, obese young adults

June 12, 2018
Young adults who are overweight or obese are twice as likely as their leaner peers to binge and purge, use laxatives or diuretics, or force themselves to vomit as a means of controlling their weight, according to a new study ...

Study offers new hope for the fight against genetically determined obesity

June 3, 2018
Around 2 to 6 percent of all people with obesity develop the condition in early childhood. Obesity-causal mutations in one of the 'appetite genes' gives them a strong genetic predisposition for developing obesity, also called ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.