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Obesity cost

Healthcare costs increase as waste lines bulge

Drug and medical costs could be double for the obese

Healthcare costs increase in parallel with BMI measurements and drug and medical costs could be double for the obese, compared with those at a healthy weight, according to a recent study Is overweight and class I obesity associated with increased health claims costs? published in the journal Obesity.

"The fact that we see the combined costs of pharmacy and medical more than double for people with BMIs of 45 compared with those of 19 suggests that interventions on weight are warranted," said Marissa Stroo from Duke University Medical Center, North Carolina, and a co-investigator on the study.

The researchers, lead by Dr Truls Østbye, professor of community and family medicine at Duke and professor of health services and systems research at Duke-National University of Singapore, found that costs associated with medical and drug claims rose gradually with each unit increase in BMI, which began above a BMI 19.

“Our findings suggest that excess fat is detrimental at any level," said Østbye.

The set out to evaluate the relationship between BMI and health claims costs over the last decade, assess the strength and nature of the relationship between BMI and costs, and identify comorbidities that may drive any increased costs.

Using health insurance claims data for 17,703 Duke employees participating in annual health appraisals from 2001 to 2011, the researchers related costs of doctors' visits and use of prescription drugs to employees' BMIs.

Measuring costs related to doctors' visits and prescriptions, the researchers observed that the prevalence of obesity-related diseases increased gradually across all body mass levels. In addition to diabetes and hypertension, the rates of nearly a dozen other disease categories also grew with increases in BMI. Cardiovascular disease was associated with the largest cost increase per unit increase in BMI.

The average annual healthcare costs for a person with a BMI of 19 was found to be US$2,368; this grew to US$4,880 for a person with a BMI of 45 or greater. Women in the study had higher overall medical costs across all BMI categories, but men saw a sharper increase in medical costs the higher their BMIs rose.

The study did not find a change in the relationship between levels of obesity and health care costs from 2001 to 2011. The current findings suggest that the occurrence of obesity-related illnesses and related costs begin increasing at a healthy weight.

Given the growing health costs associated with excess weight, the researchers stressed the importance of implementing effective health and weight-loss programs.

The researchers also noted that the workplace is a good setting for implementing weight loss programs, given that employers can target the more than 100 million Americans who spend most of their waking hours at work. The Affordable Care Act recognizes this advantage, and has created new incentives to promote employee wellness programs.

"Employers should be interested in these findings, because, directly or indirectly, they end up paying for a large portion of these health care costs," added Østbye.

The researchers are currently working to evaluate the impact of employer-sponsored health management and weight loss programs on health care costs.

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