Weight May Affect Healthcare Costs

Overweight and obese people had higher health claims costs than those with normal weight

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Being overweight carries many health risks, and one new study has shown that it may impact your wallet as well.

This new study of Duke University employees found a gradual increase in the risk of diabetes, hypertension and nearly a dozen other diseases as a person's body mass index (BMI) rose.

BMI is a measure of height and weight that helps determine if someone is overweight, underweight or a healthy weight.

This study showed that healthcare costs could more than double for individuals with a BMI level associated with obesity.

"Talk to your doctor to determine a healthy weight for you."

This study was led by Truls Østbye, MD, PhD, professor of community and family medicine at Duke and professor of health services and systems research at Duke-National University of Singapore.

The research team looked at 17,703 insurance claims by Duke University employees participating in annual health appraisals from 2001 to 2011. Participants needed to be part of the Duke health care system for at least one year to be eligible.

The researchers related costs of doctors’ visits and use of prescription medications to employees' BMIs.

BMI measures a person’s weight adjusted for their height and was used to screen individuals for possible weight-related problems. A BMI between 19 and 24 is considered normal and healthy, while a BMI between 25 and 29 is overweight, and anything over 30 is considered obese.

The study data showed that overweight and obese participants had higher rates of diabetes, which increased from a 1.6 percent risk for a person with a BMI of 19-25 to a 16.6 percent risk for individuals with a BMI greater than 40. The risk of diabetes increased gradually at every level of weight above normal.

The data also showed a similar increase in the risk of hypertension among participants who had a normal BMI — a 5.4 percent risk compared to a 30.6 percent for those individuals with a BMI 40 or greater. As with diabetes risk, the risk of hypertension increased gradually at every level of weight above normal.

This research showed that a person with a BMI of 19 would have annual healthcare costs of $2,368, while the healthcare costs of a person with a BMI of 45 or greater averaged $4,880 per year.

The study team excluded any individuals who were underweight with a BMI below 19.

“The fact that we see the combined costs of pharmacy and medical more than double for people with BMIs of 45 compared with those of 19 suggests that interventions on weight are warranted,” said Marissa Stroo, a co-investigator on this study.

The researchers are now working to evaluate the effectiveness of employer-sponsored health management and weight loss programs on healthcare costs.

These researchers noted that the study was limited by health claims being an indirect sign of illness, and most of the height and weight data was provided by the participants, who may have underreported their weight.

“Employers should be interested in these findings, because, directly or indirectly, they end up paying for a large portion of these health care costs,” Dr. Østbye said in a press statement.

This study was published online on November 25 in the journal Obesity.

This research team reported no conflicts of interest.

This study was supported by a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Review Date: 
January 27, 2014
Last Updated:
January 28, 2014