Obesity Increases U.S. Health Care Spending More Than Smoking, Problem Drinking, Study Finds
Obese Americans spend more on medical care and prescription drugs than do smokers and problem drinkers, according to a new study published in the March/April issue of Health Affairs, the Wall Street Journal reports. The study found that obese Americans spend 36% more on inpatient and outpatient health care and 77% more on prescription drugs than individuals who are not obese spend. Smokers spend 21% more on inpatient and outpatient health care and 28% more on prescription drugs than non-smokers, and problem drinkers contributed to smaller increases, the study found. Numerically, the study found that obesity led to an average increase in inpatient and outpatient spending of $395 per year, while smoking led to a $230 per year increase, and problem drinking led to a $150 per year increase (Rundle, Wall Street Journal, 3/12). The study also found that obesity contributed to a decrease in individuals' quality of life at about four times the rate of smoking or alcohol abuse (AP/Boston Globe, 3/12). According to the study, although smokers and problem drinkers have received "more consistent attention in recent decades in clinical practice," obesity has "roughly the same association with chronic health conditions as does 20 years' aging," which "greatly exceeds the associations" of smoking and problem drinking (Sturm, Health Affairs, March/April 2002). In the study, author Roland Sturm, a senior economist at Rand Corp., analyzed data from a 1997-1998 telephone household survey of about 10,000 adults between ages 18 and 65. The participants responded to questions about their smoking and drinking habits, as well as their weight, age, gender, race, household income and education. In addition, participants answered questions about their medical care, including hospital stays and physician visits. Sturm multiplied their use of medical services by the unit costs of the services based on a federal survey of medical expenditures.
According to Sturm, the comparison is intended to help health officials establish "policy priorities." Morgan Downey, executive director of the American Obesity Association, said that the study places a "different perspective" on obesity. He added, "There has definitely been a feeling that smoking, drinking and substance abuse are bigger problems than obesity. This study and others will be important to clarify that this isn't the case." Downey said that many schools and employers offer programs to educate individuals about the risks of smoking and problem drinking. "There is so much greater acceptance for the role of those programs. Weight has been seen as a kind of superficial thing that schools and employers don't have to worry about," he said (Wall Street Journal, 3/12). About 40 million American adults are obese, and the national obesity rate increased to 19.8% in 2000 from 12% in 1991, a CDC study released last September found (American Health Line, 9/13/01).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.