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Study: Annual Care Costs $1,429 More for Each Obese American

July 27, 2009 - Obesity costs the U.S. health care system up to $147 billion a year: An extra $1,429 per year for each obese person.

It's not obesity itself that costs so much. It's the bad health that comes with it, says a new study.

"The medical costs attributable to obesity are almost entirely a result of costs generated from treating the diseases obesity promotes," lead study author Eric A. Finkelstein, PhD, director of North Carolina's RTI Public Health Economics Program, says in a news release.

Those diseases include heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and stroke.

If nobody in the U.S. were obese, we'd spend 9% less on health care. But more than a third of us are obese -- and another third of us are overweight.

That's a scary statistic. Here's a scarier one: 17% of U.S. children and teens are so overweight they're in the top 5% of body size for their age on growth charts. A less nice way to put it: these kids already are obese.

The health-related costs of obesity are rising. That's because more and more people are becoming obese, Finkelstein and colleagues calculate.

What can be done? The CDC last week released a list of community strategies to prevent obesity. It's a detailed blueprint of 24 strategies divided into six categories:

  • Making affordable healthy foods and beverages more available
  • Supporting healthy food choices
  • Encouraging breastfeeding
  • Encouraging kids to be more active
  • Creating safe communities that support physical activity
  • Encouraging communities to organize for change

"It is critical that we take effective steps to contain and reduce the enormous burden of obesity on our nation," CDC Director Thomas Frieden, MD, MPH, says in a news release.

Finkelstein and colleagues report their findings in the July 27 issue of Health Affairs. The CDC report appears in the July 24 issue of MMWR Recommendations and Reports.

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