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February 21, 2018

Obesity-related health care spending on the rise, study finds

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    The share of U.S. medical expenditures dedicated to treating obesity-related illnesses in adults rose by 29% from 2001 to 2015, but state spending levels varied, according to a study published in Clinical Chemistry.

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    Study details

    For the study, researchers analyzed Medical Expenditure Panel Survey data from 2001 to 2015 and estimated the share of health care costs associated with adult obesity in the United States. The researchers examined expenditures by payer types, including Medicare, Medicaid, and private health insurance. The researchers also reviewed literature on the economic effects of obesity.


    According to the study, the share of U.S. national medical expenditures dedicated to treating obesity-rated illness in the adults increased by 29% from 6.13% in 2001 to 7.91% in 2015. The authors wrote that findings show a "substantial and rising percentage of health care costs are associated with obesity" in the United States.

    However, the researchers found "substantial differences" in state spending on obesity-related illnesses. For example, the researchers found Arizona, California, Florida, and New York dedicated 5% to 6% of state medical expenditures in 2015 to obesity, while North Carolina, Ohio, and Wisconsin dedicated more than 12% of state medical expenditures.

    The state-by-state spending disparities held when the researchers looked at obesity-related spending by payer. For instance, the researchers found Kentucky and Wisconsin dedicated more than 20% of their Medicaid expenditures to obesity-related illnesses. In comparison, New York dedicated 10.9% of its Medicaid expenditures to obesity-related illnesses.

    When the researchers reviewed previous literature on the economic effects of obesity, they found obesity:  

    • Imposes negative external costs that might warrant government intervention;
    • Lowers wages and the likelihood of employment; and
    • Raises medical care costs.


    John Cawley, one of the study's authors and a professor at Cornell University, in a release said, "We have, for the first time, estimated the percentage of health care spending that is devoted to obesity, using microdata for each state." Cawley said the difference in medical expenditures dedicated to obesity across states is driven by several factors, including health care access, health care prices, obesity prevalence, and obesity treatment (MacDonald, FierceHealthcare, 2/9; HealthDay News/Endocrinology Advisory, 2/9; Lagasse, Healthcare Finance News, 2/12).

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    As obesity and diabetes rates rise across the country, many hospitals have developed outpatient diabetes centers. Projections estimate that by 2050, one in three Americans will have diabetes. The most progressive hospitals have combined diabetes treatment, education, wound care, ophthalmology, and other services into comprehensive programs.

    In this briefing, we profiled six leading institutions have successfully integrated outpatient diabetes services into their primary care networks.

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