Preventing Obesity Equals Savings

Obesity prevention in the future could save billions of dollars in medical costs

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Obesity and its related health problems cost big money. Prevention efforts to keep the rates of obesity stable could save Americans 550 billion dollars over the next 20 years. 

A new study estimates a 33 percent rise in the rates of obesity by the year 2030. That increase will lead to a rise in medical costs linked to obesity. Slowing the rates of obesity can help save millions of dollars for Americans.

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A study by Eric Finkelstein, PhD, of the Duke University, and colleagues looked at health information from the behavioral risk factor surveillance system (BRFSS), which is a telephone-based system for tracking health information that is an ongoing effort by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Dr. Finkelstein and colleagues looked at rates of obesity and severe obesity between 1990 and 2008 in adults over 18 years old. They used the information to calculate an estimate for how rates are likely to change and how the medical costs that result from obesity will be affected by any change.

Obesity is defined by the body mass index (BMI) which is a number relating your weight to your height. Obesity is defined as a BMI over 30. Severe obesity is a BMI greater than 35. 

In making the new estimates, the researchers tried to take into account current trends and other influences that will affect future trends, like increased access to education through the internet and increasing access to exercise programs.

If obesity rates stayed the same as they are now, it would save about 550 billion dollars in medical costs. However, this study says the rates are likely to rise by 33 percent for obesity and 130 percent for severe obesity over the next 20 years.

Obesity rates rose steadily between the 1970’s and 1990’s, but rates have begun to level off. However, severe obesity has been climbing with no sign of slowing.

By 2030, 42 percent of the population will be obese, says this new study.  This is lower than other estimates, but the researchers here used a method of projecting that took into account current trends and other influencing variables.

Other reports claim that 51 percent of the population will be obese in 2030, if current trends continue.  The difference, 51 compared to 42 percent, may not seem large. However, Dr. Finkelstein and colleagues note in their study that even a one point difference is equal to about 4 billion dollars in savings over the next two decades.

The authors suggested that the rising medical costs that would result from rising obesity rates are a cause for concern.  Measures to keep rates low will lower the financial burden for many Americans in the years to come.

The study was published May 7, 2012 in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine. No conflicts of interest were disclosed.

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Review Date: 
May 6, 2012
Last Updated:
May 8, 2012