America's expanding waistlines have nearly doubled medical spending on obesity-related conditions which could reach 147 billion dollars a year, a study said Monday.
As Congress debated President Barack Obama's major push to overhaul US healthcare, researchers warned that the prevalence of obesity -- which now affects over 25 percent of Americans, up from 18.3 percent in 1998 -- and associated medical problems, are behind ballooning overall medical spending.
US obesity rates grew 37 percent between 1998 and 2006, pushing obesity-related spending up another 40 billion dollars a year, according to the study published by Health Affairs.
Obesity currently accounts for 9.1 percent of all medical spending, up from 6.5 percent in 1998.
"The medical costs attributable to obesity are almost entirely a result of costs generated from treating the diseases that obesity promotes," said lead author Eric Finkelstein, who heads RTI International's Public Health Economic Program.
"Obesity will continue to impose a significant burden on the healthcare system as long as obesity prevalence remains high."
Per capita medical spending for obese individuals was 1,429 dollars more each year than for those of normal weight -- a whopping 42 percent more.
Finkelstein and researchers from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality based their analysis on data from 1998 and 2006 medical and health spending surveys, and defined obesity as body mass index above 30.
The bulk of obesity spending, the researchers said, is not devoted to treatments such as bariatric surgery, but rather to treating obesity-linked diseases. Excess weight, they noted, is the best predictor of developing diabetes, which costs 191 billion dollars each year.
"If not for obesity, these costs would be much lower, as would costs for other conditions caused by excess weight," the authors said. "The connection between rising rates of obesity and rising medical spending is undeniable."
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