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Study: Obesity medical costs estimated as high as $147 billion annually (7/29)

July 29, 2009
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The health cost of obesity in the United States is as high as $147 billion annually, based on a new study from RTI and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to a recent press release. The study, which appeared online Monday in the journal Health Affairs, was released at CDC’s Weight of the Nation conference in Washington, DC.

The proportion of all annual medical costs that are due to obesity increased from 6.5 percent in 1998 to 9.1 percent in 2006, the study said. This total includes payment by Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurers, and includes prescription drug spending. Overall, persons who are obese spent $1,429 (42 percent) more for medical care in 2006 than did normal weight people. These estimates were compiled using national data that compare medical expenses for normal weight and obese persons.

The study is titled “Annual Medical Spending Attributable to Obesity: Payer- and Service-Specific Estimates.”

Recognizing the large health and economic burden of obesity, CDC has issued its first comprehensive set of evidence-based recommendations to help communities tackle the problem of obesity through programs and policies that promote healthy eating and physical activity.

The report, "Recommended Community Strategies and Measurements to Prevent Obesity in the United States," along with a companion implementation guide, appears in CDC’s MMWR Recommendations and Reports. A companion implementation guide is also available on the CDC Web site.

“It is critical that we take effective steps to contain and reduce the enormous burden of obesity on our nation”, said CDC Director Thomas Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. “These new recommendations and their proposed measurements are a powerful and practical tool to help state and local governments, school districts, and local partners take necessary action.”

The Common Community Measures for Obesity Prevention Project was guided by a systematic process that included expert opinion and a review of the published scientific literature, resulting in the adoption of 24 recommended environmental and policy level strategies to prevent obesity.

The strategies promote the availability of affordable healthy food and beverages, support healthy food and beverage choices, encourage breastfeeding, encourage physical activity or limit sedentary activity, support safe communities that support physical activity, and encourage communities to organize for change.

“Obesity is a risk for a number of chronic diseases, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and some cancers,” said William H. Dietz, MD, Ph.D., director of CDC's Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity. “Reversing this epidemic requires a multifaceted and coordinated approach that uses policy and environmental change to transform communities into places that support and promote healthy lifestyle choices for all people.”

CDC partnered with the International City/County Management Association to pilot test an initial set of obesity prevention measures in 20 communities. The resulting 24 recommended strategies and suggested measures are now being pilot tested by Minnesota and Massachusetts state health departments in order to determine their success. The strategies include:
  • Communities should support locating schools within easy walking distance of residential areas.
  • Communities should improve availability of affordable healthier food and beverage choices
The community measures project is a collaborative effort among CDC, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Kellogg Foundation, Kaiser Permanente, and the CDC Foundation. ICF Macro serves at the coordinating center for the project and the international City/County Management Association pilot tested the measures for each strategy in 20 communities.

For more information on the community measures, please visit www.cdc.gov/MMWR. To view the economic paper published in Health Affairs, visit: www.healthaffairs.org.

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