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March 2005 Issue

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Morbidly Obese Pay Nearly Twice As Much for Health Care

Published March 2005

Health-care costs for morbidly obese adults are nearly twice those of people considered to be of normal weight, says a study led by UC researchers.

The study found that in the year 2000 morbidly obese adults paid 81 percent more for medical care than normal-weight adults, 65 percent more than overweight adults, and 47 percent more than obese adults.

The excess costs among morbidly obese adults resulted from greater spending on visits to the doctor, outpatient hospital care, inpatient care and prescription drugs, the researchers say.

"The economic burden of morbid obesity among U.S. adults is substantial," says David Arterburn, MD, assistant professor of internal medicine and researcher at the Institute for the Study of Health at UC's Academic Health Center.

The study, led by Dr. Arterburn, appears in the March 2005 issue of the International Journal of Obesity.

In 2000, nearly 5 million U.S. adults were considered morbidly obese, bringing health-care spending associated with excess body weight to more than $11 billion that year.

Morbid obesity, defined as being 100 pounds or more over ideal body weight or having a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or higher, is rising twice as fast as obesity (BMI greater than 30) in the United States. Between 1990 and 2000, the prevalence of morbid obesity increased from 0.78 percent to 2.2 percent, representing a total of over 4.8 million morbidly obese U.S. adults in the year 2000.

The authors found that $56 billion in U.S. heath-care expenditures in 2000 was linked to excess body weight--a 12 percent increase from 1998.

Morbid obesity is associated with a substantially increased risk of sickness and death from chronic health conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and cancer.

The authors say further research is needed into specific interventions that will reduce the incidence and prevalence of morbid obesity and improve the health and economic outcomes of morbidly obese people.

Co-authors include Matthew Maciejewski, PhD, of the University of Washington, and Joel Tsevat, MD, professor of internal medicine and researcher at UC's Institute for the Study of Health.

The research was supported by a grant from the Department of Veterans Affairs. To read the full article, visit

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