Obesity now accounts for almost 21 percent of U.S. healthcare costs—more than twice the previous estimates, according to a study from Cornell University researchers.
The Cornell study showed that an obese person incurs medical costs that are $2,741 higher (in 2005 dollars) than if they were not obese. Nationwide, that translates into $190.2 billion per year, or 20.6 percent of national health expenditures.
"Historically we've been underestimating the benefit of preventing and reducing obesity," John Cawley, lead author on the report and professor of policy analysis and management in the College of Human Ecology and professor of economics, said in a press release on Cornell’s website. "Obesity raises the risk of cancer, stroke, heart attack and diabetes. For any type of surgery, there are complications with anesthesia, with healing (for the obese). ... Obesity raises the costs of treating almost any medical condition. It adds up very quickly."
The 5 percent of Americans who are morbidly obese generate the highest costs, the study found. "These elevated costs are incurred not by the person who is 10 pounds overweight, but the person who is 100 pounds overweight," Cawley added.
The study, conducted with Chad Meyerhoefer of Lehigh University, used a federal survey of 24,000 non-elderly U.S. adults, their doctors and other medical care providers from 2000 to 2005. The data include the individuals' weight and height and two years' worth of their medical care and its cost.