While it’s hardly news that obesity is expensive, a new study by John Cawley of Cornell and Chad Meyerhoefer of Lehigh found that obesity-related costs made up for almost twice the amounts suggested by previous researchers, even though it used the same data set as other studies (a federal survey of U.S. citizens and their doctors and other medical providers, thought to be the most complete information in the country on healthcare cost and use).
If 9% (or $147 billion) sounded steep, how about nearly 17% (around $168 billion)? While previous studies estimated that obesity added $1,400 to someone’s annual medical bill, this new study estimates that amount is closer to $2,800.
Some of the reasons for their higher numbers may be due to statistical adjustments made to reflect truer body weight estimates as well as efforts to delve further to establish to what extent obesity contributed to healthcare costs.
Though both researchers were initially surprised by their findings, Cawley said, “It’s hard to find conditions that aren’t worsened or made more expensive by obesity.”
Studies like this make a strong case for the need for improved nutrition education and anti-obesity campaigns. It always makes me a little uncomfortable to talk about preventive care as a means of saving money or lightening the country’s healthcare load because it makes me feel like I’m arguing with my grandfather or someone else who’s always worrying about a hand in his pocket. I think it’s an important discussion to have, though.
I think (or hope, anyway) that more and more people are beginning to understand the long-reaching impact obesity can have, and in recent years we’ve seen some great efforts to address the problem. So far, we haven’t been all that successful in turning it around, but studies like this show that we need to keep trying and not give up.