As Waistlines Increase So To Do Health Care Costs, Says New Study
December 17, 2013

As Waistlines Increase So To Do Health Care Costs, Says New Study

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

If you’re looking for extra motivation to shed some pounds in 2014, consider this: new research appearing in the journal Obesity has found a correlation between health care costs and increasing body mass measurements.

The study, which was conducted by investigators at Duke University Medical Center, found that the financial burden associated with medical and drug claims increased gradually with each unit increase in body mass index (BMI).

Furthermore, the increases began above a BMI level of 19, which falls in the lower range of the healthy BMI category. Those findings “suggest that excess fat is detrimental at any level,” explained lead author and professor of community and family medicine Dr. Truls Østbye.

Previous studies “concluded that while higher degrees of obesity were associated with higher mortality rates, being overweight or even slightly obese was actually linked with lower mortality,” the medical center said. “Since these findings questioned the general belief that high body mass leads to poor health outcomes,” Østbye’s team set out to “better understand the rates of obesity-related disease… by measuring health care utilization and costs.”

The study authors reviewed health insurance claims information for nearly 18,000 Duke University employees who participated in annual health evaluations between 2001 and 2011. They compared the cost of doctors’ visits and prescription drug use to each employee’s BMI, a measure of weight adjusted by an individual’s height.

A normal BMI is between 19 and 24, while a BMI of 25 to 29 is considered to be overweight and a BMI of 30 or above is clinically obese, the researchers explained. By measuring the costs associated with medical care, Østbye and his colleagues found that the prevalence of obesity-related conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and hypertension increased gradually across all BMI levels.

“Cardiovascular disease was associated with the largest dollar increase per unit increase in BMI,” the university said. “The average annual health care costs for a person with a BMI of 19 was found to be $2,368; this grew to $4,880 for a person with a BMI of 45 or greater. Women in the study had higher overall medical costs across all BMI categories, but men saw a sharper increase in medical costs the higher their BMIs rose.”

The paper found no change in the relationship between obesity levels and health care costs from 2001 and 2011. Despite recent research suggesting that only extremely obese men and women faced an increased risk of mortality, this new study suggests that the occurrence of obesity-related illnesses and the costs associated with treating them began to increase at healthy weights.

“Given the growing health costs associated with excess weight, the researchers stressed the importance of implementing effective health and weight-loss programs,” the university said. Given that the costs of drug and medical treatment more than doubles for people with BMIs of 45 versus those with 19 “suggests that interventions on weight are warranted,” study co-author Marissa Stroo added.

The Duke researchers are now evaluating the effect of employer-sponsored weight and health management programs on health care costs.

The study was supported by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)  and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).