State’s Obesity-Related Costs Up an Estimated 32% Over Five Years
California's "rapidly growing" obese, overweight and inactive populations could cost the state nearly $29 billion in health care expenses in 2005, a 32% increase from 2000, according to a study released Tuesday by the Department of Health Services, the Los Angeles Times reports. North Carolina-based Health Management Associates, a division of Chenoweth & Associates, conducted the study for the agency by analyzing medical claims data for more than 25,000 state residents (Girion, Los Angeles Times, 4/6).
Researchers examined about 3.7 million records for conditions related to obesity, being overweight and physical inactivity, including lower-back pain, diabetes and hypertension (Luna, Orange County Register, 4/6). According to the San Jose Mercury News, researchers used an epidemiological model to estimate what percentage of such conditions should be attributed to state residents being obese, overweight or inactive.
For example, researchers estimated that about 12% of heart attacks could be attributed to inactivity, while obesity and being overweight accounted for about 16% (Sevrens Lyons, San Jose Mercury News, 4/6). Researchers also calculated the costs of short-term disability and lost productivity hours attributed to absenteeism.
The study estimated that obesity, inactivity and being overweight cost California entities about $21.7 billion in 2000 (Colliver, San Francisco Chronicle , 4/6). Of that amount, $13.3 billion could be attributed to individuals who rarely or never exercised, the study said (Orange County Register, 4/6). The study broke down the costs of obesity, and found that in 2000:
- Medical costs totaled $10 billion;
- Workers' compensation costs totaled $338 million; and
- Lost productivity cost businesses $11.2 billion (Silber, Contra Costa Times, 4/6).
Extra costs and lost income accounted for about 7.6% of total health care spending in California in 2000, or about 1.5% of the state's overall economic output, the Chronicle reports (San Francisco Chronicle, 4/6). The study states, "The majority of those costs were shouldered by public and private employers in the form of health insurance and lost productivity."
Researchers found that nearly 53% of residents older than 25 are overweight, and more than 17% are obese. More than 60% of Hispanics, blacks and adults with less than a high school education are overweight (Wasserman, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 4/5).
The study found that the number of overweight residents increased by 109% from 1991 to 2001. Over the same period, California fell from the sixth-most-fit state nationwide to the 27th-most-fit state (San Francisco Chronicle, 4/6).
Susan Foerster, chief of cancer prevention and nutrition at DHS, said, "One way we hope this report will be helpful is that it illustrates the status quo is costing all businesses a lot of money" (Lau, Sacramento Bee, 4/5). She said, "We need comprehensive approaches. That means having healthy foods and active living being easy choices rather than hard ones" (Contra Costa Times, 4/6).
Californians have gained weight in part because of the popularity of automobiles, an increase in fast-food restaurants, long work hours and the long commutes, according to Foerster. CDHS officials said they "hope that putting a price tag on weight and fitness problems will prompt changes in the way employers, food manufacturers, restaurant chains and urban planners do business," the Los Angeles Times reports. CDHS officials said that acting on the study's findings was a priority for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) (Los Angeles Times, 4/6).
Richard Jackson, the state public health officer, said, "These new numbers should convince stakeholders to pitch in and help fix the problem" (Orange County Register, 4/6).
Dan Mindus, senior analyst for the Center for Consumer Freedom, said, "What people hear about in this issue is that obesity kills. We're all going to die." He added, "In my view, I think that is exaggerated, and it leads to unfortunate consequences," such as additional food regulation and increased litigation (San Francisco Chronicle, 4/6).