Increase in Obesity Rates Among Elderly Could Lead To Higher Health Care Costs, Study Finds
Treatment of medical conditions related to obesity in elderly individuals could account for one in every five health care dollars spent by 2020, according to study published on Tuesday in the March/April issue of Health Affairs, the Wall Street Journal reports (Rundle, Wall Street Journal, 4/9). In the study, researchers led by Roland Sturm, senior economist at Rand, examined data from the Health and Retirement Study to estimate the association between obesity and disability and combined the data with trend estimates of obesity rates from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey. The study found that based on current obesity trends, disability rates will increase by 1% per year for individuals ages 50 to 69 than "if there were no further weight gain" (Sturm et al., Health Affairs, March/April 2004). According to the study, severely obese individuals ages 50 to 69 are "more than twice as likely as people of normal weight to be in fair or poor health" and have about twice as many chronic medical conditions, the Journal reports. The study also found a 44% increase in health care costs among moderately and severely obese individuals ages 50 to 69 compared with those of normal weight. Moderately obese men ages 50 to 69 are 50% more likely than those of normal weight to have difficulty with daily tasks, and severely obese men in the same age group are 300% more likely to have difficulty, according to the study. Moderately obese women ages 50 to 69 are 200% more likely than those of normal weight to have difficulty with daily tasks, and severely obese women in the same age group are 400% more likely to have difficulty, the study found. Researchers defined moderate obesity as a body mass index of between 30 and 35 and severe obesity as a BMI of 35 or higher. "As obesity becomes more and more prevalent among the elderly, it will be more and more difficult for other social trends to counter its adverse heath effects," Sturm said. (Wall Street Journal, 4/9). An abstract of this study is available online.This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.