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Overweight Americans Weigh Down Insurance System
June 27, 2005
Americans' battle of the bulge is also becoming a weighty problem for the nation's health care system. Not only are more Americans showing signs of obesity, health care professionals claim the cost of treating obesity-related ailments has risen 1000 percent over a 15-year period.
Medical researchers, writing in Health Affairs, compared the money spent treating obese patients in 1987 with the amount spent in 2002. They found an increase from $3.6 billion to $36.5 billion. That means nearly 12 percent of all health care spending in 2002 is now directed at patients who are severely overweight.
"We need to have the same type of societal attention on this issue that we gave to smoking 20 years ago," said Kenneth Thorpe, lead author of the study.
Thorpe says the staggering increase cannot be attributed to the increase in obesity-related diseases alone. He says another major factor is the skyrocketing cost of health care in general. Both factors, he says, are leading to much higher health insurance premiums as insurance companies scramble to cover the rising medical costs.
The researchers said the rising insurance company spending can be traced to the cost of treating the obese. In 2001, they said, overweight people with private health insurance pushed up insurance outlays an average of $1,200 per person when compared with people with healthy weights. In 1987, the difference was less than $300.
Type 2 diabetes is the fastest growing ailment afflicting the overweight. The number of cases of adult-onset diabetes increased by 64% between 1987 and 2001.
The study shows that more than 15 percent of obese adults were treated for six or more medical conditions in 2002, double the number from 15 years ago. For those 80 pounds or more overweight, the percentage jumped to 25 percent.
With nearly a third of Americans clinically obese (30 pounds or more overweight) Thorpe says the medical profession should focus more attention on making sure patients are at a normal weight, rather than waiting and treating them for the inevitable ailments that follow just a few years of obesity.