Unknown Prices

The Elusive Price for Obesity

Conversations about obesity almost inevitably come around to its costliness. Look for references on obesity costs and you’ll get a million results. But despite so much attention to economic analysis, putting a price on the diagnosis of obesity turns out to be quite a messy task.

Even the relatively simpler matter of estimating direct medical costs is a considerable challenge. Value in Health published a new systematic review, meta-analysis, and empirical analysis that illustrates this challenge. David Kim and Anirban Basu found a wide range of estimates for the annual incremental medical costs per person: as little as $227 and as much as $7,269.

In the end, they concluded that medical costs attributable to obesity are about $150 billion for the U.S. in 2014 dollars. Of course, the cost to the economy is considerably more. That’s because obesity is a leading cause of disability and lost productivity.

Obesity costs are tough to pin down for a simple reason. The disease itself is not generating much in the way of medical costs. Mostly, healthcare providers ignore the disease. Then they aggressively treat the complications of untreated obesity. Those complications include diabetes, heart disease, liver disease, cancer, and a host of other medical problems. The authors explain:

Most, if not all, of the costs attributable to obesity are mainly caused by obesity related diseases, and as age increases, the population with obesity is more likely to develop ORDs, incurring higher costs of obesity for the older population.

From this perspective, the fear of medicalizing obesity is ironic. The medical consequences of obesity and their costs are impossible to miss. What’s missing is evidence-based medical care for this disease that savages the body over time.

Click here for the paper by Kim and Basu. Click here for further perspective from Chris Sampson.

Unknown Prices, photograph © Allison McDonald / flickr

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September 19, 2016

4 Responses to “The Elusive Price for Obesity”

  1. September 19, 2016 at 9:20 am, Allen Browne said:

    Fussing about the direct or indirect costs, etc is a waste of time. Our energies should go to evidence based care and access to care.

    • September 19, 2016 at 9:38 am, Ted said:

      Of course, I agree with putting energies into evidence-based care, Allen. Folks erecting barriers need to realize that they’re adding billions to medical costs by doing so. Many labor under the false assumption that they’re saving money.

  2. September 19, 2016 at 10:07 am, Allen Browne said:

    Penny wise and pound foolish!

    • September 19, 2016 at 10:15 am, Ted said: