If obesity rates continue on their current trajectory, by 2030, combined medical costs associated with treating preventable obesity-related diseases are estimated to increase by between $48 billion and $66 billion per year.
Obesity is one of the biggest drivers of preventable chronic diseases and healthcare costs in the United States. Currently, estimates for these costs range from $147 billion to nearly $210 billion per year.1 In addition, job absenteeism related to obesity costs $4.3 billion annually.2
If obesity rates continue on their current trajectory, by 2030, combined medical costs associated with treating preventable obesity-related diseases are estimated to increase by between $48 billion and $66 billion per year, and the loss in economic productivity could be between $390 billion and $580 billion annually.3
As obesity rates rise, the risk of developing obesity-related health problems — type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and stroke, hypertension, arthritis and obesity-related cancer — increases exponentially.4 Twenty years ago, only 7.8 million Americans had been diagnosed with diabetes but, today, approximately 25.8 million Americans have the disease.5 More than 75 percent of hypertension cases can be attributed to obesity.6 And, approximately one-third of cancer deaths are linked to obesity or lack of physical activity.7
However, if obesity trends were lowered by reducing the average adult BMI by only 5 percent, millions of Americans could be spared from serious health problems and preventable diseases, and the country could save $29.8 billion in five years, $158 billion in 10 years and $611.7 billion in 20 years.8
Reducing obesity and improving health can help lower costs through fewer trips to the doctor’s office, tests, prescription drugs, sick days, emergency room visits and admissions to the hospital, and lowered risk for a wide range of diseases.
To date, there has not been a sustained strong national focus on prevention to deliver the potential results despite a growing number of studies that demonstrate the positive returns many strategies and programs can deliver for improving health and productivity and lowering costs.9 For instance, a 2008 study by the Urban Institute, The New York Academy of Medicine (NYAM) and TFAH found that an investment of $10 per person in proven community-based programs to increase physical activity, improve nutrition and prevent smoking and other tobacco use could save the country more than $16 billion annually within five years. That’s a return of $5.60 for every $1 invested.10 Out of the $16 billion, Medicare could save more than $5 billion and Medicaid could save more than $1.9 billion. Expanding the use of prevention programs would better inform the most effective, strategic public and private investments that yield the strongest results.
Why Containing Obesity-Related Healthcare Costs Matters
Higher Healthcare Costs for Adults
- Obese adults spend 42 percent more on direct healthcare costs than healthy-weight people.11
- Per capita healthcare costs for severely or morbidly obese (BMI >40) were 81 percent greater than for normal weight adults.12 Around $11 billion was spent on medical expenditures for morbidly obese U.S. adults in 2000.
- Moderately obese (BMI between 30 and 35) individuals are more than twice as likely as normal weight individuals to be prescribed prescription pharmaceuticals to manage medical conditions.13
- Costs for patients presenting at emergency rooms with chest pains were 41 percent higher for severely obese patients, 28 percent higher for obese patients and 22 percent higher for overweight patients than for normal-weight patients.
Higher Healthcare Costs for Children
- Obesity contributes an estimated incremental lifetime medical cost of $19,000 per 10-year-old child when compared with a normal-weight 10-year-old child. When multiplied by the number of obese 10-year-olds in the United States, lifetime medical costs for just this cohort would amount to approximately $14 billion in direct medical costs.15,16
- Obese children had $194 higher outpatient visit expenditures, $114 higher prescription drug expenditures and $25 higher emergency room expenditures, based on a two-year Medical Expenditure Panel Survey.17
- Overweight and obesity in childhood is associated with $14.1 billion in additional prescription drug, emergency room and outpatient visit costs annually.
- The average total health cost for a child treated for obesity under private insurance is $3,743, while the average health cost for all children covered by private insurance is $1,108.18
- Hospitalizations of children and youths with a diagnosis of obesity nearly doubled between 1999 and 2005, while total costs for children and youths with obesity-related hospitalizations increased from $125.9 million in 2001 to $237.6 million in 2005 (in 2005 dollars).19
Decreased Worker Productivity and Increased Absenteeism
- Obesity-related job absenteeism costs $4.3 billion annually.20
- Obesity is associated with lower productivity while at work (presenteeism), which costs employers $506 per obese worker per year.21
- As a person’s BMI increases, so do the number of sick days, medical claims and healthcare costs associated with that person.22 Obese women used 5.19 more sick days and obese men used an excess of 3.48 sick days compared with normal weight individuals, according to a 2014 German study.23
Higher Workers’ Compensation Claims
- A number of studies have shown obese workers have higher workers’ compensation claims.24,25,26,27,28,29 Medical claims cost $7,503 for healthy-weight workers and $51,091 for obese workers (annual costs, United States).30
- Preventing obesity and its related chronic diseases should be a major focus of healthcare cost-containment efforts.
- Funding for obesity-prevention programs will be important to achieve results in improving health and reducing healthcare costs. Programs and policies should include a wide range of partners to ensure success, including businesses, schools, community- and faith-based organizations, economic and community developers and health and social service providers.
- Because community-based obesity- and disease-prevention programs can significantly cut healthcare costs, funding for evidence-based programs at all levels of government will continue to be important.
- Community-based programs must include the ability to evaluate effectiveness and cost savings, and demonstrate how savings can be shared among partners, including businesses and the healthcare system, and reinvested to continue to support and expand prevention activities.