Obesity is the single most solvable cause for America’s health crisis according to recently released findings given to the US Government. Americans who are 30 or more pounds over a healthy weight cost the country an estimated $147 billion in weight-related medical bills in 2008, double the amount a decade ago, according to a study by government scientists and the non-profit research group RTI International.
The financial burden on our health care system is staggering and it keeps growing. Obesity now accounts for 9.1% of all medical spending, up from 6.5% in 1998. It is the single biggest reason for the increase in health care costs according to Eric Finkelstein, a health economist with RTI and lead researcher on the new study. “If you really want to rein in health care dollars, you have to get people dieting, exercising and living a healthier lifestyle. Otherwise somebody is going to be paying for treating these weight-related illnesses.”
“People don’t take obesity or obesity-related illnesses like type 2 diabetes seriously enough because they don’t realize that they can have dire consequences,” says Ann Albright, PhD, RD, past president of health care and education for the American Diabetes Association (ADA). In fact, an ADA survey recently suggested that people are more afraid of shark attacks and snake bites than diabetes, even though diabetes contributes to over 230,000 deaths every year compared to 5 – 10 a year from shark and snakes.
In the RTI study which looked at direct medical expenditures such as prescription medications, visits to doctors’ offices and both out patient and hospital services tax payers picked up about half the $147 billion tab in 2008. This was done through the Medicare and Medicaid programs which spent $600 a year more in prescription medications than patients at a healthy weight.
“Obesity is not a problem that is going to respond to a silver bullet or single solution,” says William Dietz, director of the CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity. “Comprehensive policy and environmental changes are needed.”