Reducing obesity won't lower health costs

By Aaron Smith, staff writer

NEW YORK ( -- A new government report quantifies the rise in health care spending due to the nation's growing obesity problem, but says that costs would rise even if America lost weight.

Overall health care costs rose 78% in the 20 years ended in 2007, the latest year that data were available, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The increase was driven by the surge in people considered obese, with the highest body mass index levels, whose costs rose 111%.

"Those adults are more likely to develop serious illnesses, including coronary heart disease, diabetes and hypertension," read the report released Wednesday by the budget office. "As a result, that trend also affects spending on health care."

The percentage of Americans considered obese rose to 28% in 2007, compared to just 13% in 1987, the agency said. Those considered morbidly obese, with a body mass index of 40 or more, quadrupled.

But the budget office said that even if efforts succeed in lowering the obesity rate to 20% by 2020, overall health care costs will rise by 59% to $7,230. That's because reducing obesity would increase life expectancy - and older people tend to spend more money on health care.

"To the extent that people, on average, lived longer because fewer individuals were obese, savings from lower per capita spending would be at least partially offset by additional expenditures for health care during those added years of life," the report said.

The rise in health care spending would still be worse if obesity remains at 28%, climbing 65% to $7,500, or if the obesity rate grows at its current pace to 37%, which would increase costs 71% to $7,760.

Nearly two-thirds of the U.S. population is considered overweight or obese, categories that jumped to 63% of the population in 2007 from 44% in 1987, according to the most recent available statistics from the budget office. To top of page

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