Health Day - ONLINE EDITION

As Body Weight Rises, So Do Health Costs, Study Finds

Increased expenses seen even at healthy weights

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THURSDAY, Dec. 19, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- The more people weigh, the higher their health care costs, a new study finds.

The findings may give people another reason to pledge to shed excess pounds next year, the Duke University researchers said.

The investigators analyzed the body mass index (BMI) -- an estimate of body fat based on height and weight -- and the health care costs (doctor visits and prescription drugs) of more than 17,700 university employees who took part in annual health appraisals from 2001 to 2011.

The results showed that health care cost increases paralleled BMI increases and began above a BMI of 19, which is in the lower range of BMI that's considered healthy.

Average annual health care costs were $2,368 for a person with a BMI of 19 and $4,880 for a person with a BMI of 45, which is severely obese, or greater. Women had higher overall medical costs across all BMI categories, but men saw a sharper climb in costs the higher their BMIs rose.

Rates of diabetes, high blood pressure and about 12 other health problems rose as BMI got higher. Cardiovascular disease was associated with the largest health care spending rise per BMI unit increase, according to the study published online recently in the journal Obesity.

"Our findings suggest that excess fat is detrimental at any level," lead author Dr. Truls Ostbye, professor of community and family medicine at Duke and professor of health services and systems research at Duke-National University of Singapore, said in a Duke news release.

The results also show the importance of effective health and weight loss programs.

The combined costs of pharmacy and medical are more than double for people with BMIs of 45 compared with those of 19, study co-author Marissa Stroo noted. This finding "suggests that interventions on weight are warranted," she said in the news release.

The workplace is a good setting for weight loss programs, said the researchers, who noted that the Affordable Care Act offers new incentives for employee wellness programs in the United States.

Ostbye added that "employers should be interested in these findings, because, directly or indirectly, they end up paying for a large portion of these health care costs."

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases outlines the health risks of being overweight.

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