Parable of the Rich Man

5 Surprises in the Costs of Obesity

A new study of the costs of obesity and savings that come from its treatment holds a few surprises. Having such a rigorous and up-to-date analysis is itself a nice surprise. But within the study, you’ll find a few surprises.

  1. Cawley et al: Annual Medical Expenditures as a Function of BMIClass 1 Obesity isn’t terribly expensive. Between a BMI of 30 and 35, the incremental medical costs for people with obesity are modest, especially for people who do not have diabetes.
  2. Costs shoot up rapidly with BMI >35. For people with class 2 and 3 obesity, medical costs rise exponentially with increasing BMI.
  3. The first 5% reduction in weight has the biggest payback. A reduction of 5-10% in body weight has long been the standard goal for treating obesity. This analysis shows that doubling the amount of weight loss from 5% to 10% falls far short of doubling the cost savings one can expect from the extra weight lost.
  4. Even in class 3 obesity, 5% weight loss yields big benefits. For a person with a BMI of 40, a 5% weight loss can be expected to yield savings of more than $2,000 per year. Those savings can add up year after year with careful attention to maintaining the weight loss.
  5. Preventing diabetes adds further to the cost benefits. The cost curve for people with diabetes is much steeper as BMI increases than it is for people without diabetes. In higher BMI ranges, the difference amounts to many thousands of dollars.

For people with obesity, costs are secondary. Health and quality of life come first. But for some policymakers, the cost of obesity is a compelling reason to treat, just as costs have been used as an excuse to hinder access to care.

These data should help to take away some of the excuses.

Click here to read the study in PharmacoEconomics.

Parable of the Rich Man, Rembrandt (1627) / Wikimedia Commons

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One Response to “5 Surprises in the Costs of Obesity”

  1. November 20, 2014 at 10:06 am, Dureen Coade said:

    That is good news.