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Growing obesity swells healthcare costs

July 27, 2009 | 11:04 am

In the eight years leading up to 2006, the proportion of Americans weighing in as obese shot up 37%, fueling a $40-billion-a-year rise in healthcare costs, according to a new analysis of the nation's weight conducted under the direction of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That added bill for the care of obese Americans -- equivalent to an annual expenditure of $1,429 more per person -- drove the nation's healthcare tab up fast and very steeply: while the extra care required for the severely overweight accounted for 6.1% of all medical spending in 1998, it accounted for 9.1% of total spending by 2006, the new study shows.

In the same period, the proportion of Americans with a Body Mass Index of 30 or above grew from 18.3% to 25%. 

Most of that increase has come from the rise in treatment costs -- specifically for prescription-drug use -- for the obese. Medications used to treat obesity-related conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes accounted for the bulk of the increased bill. Treatment of diabetes, for instance, costs $191 billion annually.

"The connection between rising obesity and rising medical spending is undeniable," the authors of the study, published in the journal Health Affairs, concluded.

The release of the nation's latest obesity check coincides with the start of  the CDC's inaugural Conference on Obesity Prevention and Control, taking place today through Wednesday in Washington,  D.C. The conference will focus on what changes in government policy and social and cultural practice will drive back the nation's epidemic of obesity and drive down the associated healthcare tab. Conference attendees will hear presentations on promising strategies to prevent and reduce the impact of overweight in schools, the workplace, the community and healthcare settings.

-- Melissa Healy  

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