HEALTH: US spent $75b to treat obesity in 2003
The cost of treating health problems caused by the U.S. obesity epidemic reached an estimated $75 billion last year, with taxpayers picking up about half the tab, according to a study released on Tuesday.
That conclusion, which is described by the study’s lead author as “conservative,” would mean that Americans spend almost as much on obesity-related health care services as they do to treat the illnesses caused by cigarette smoking.
Obesity, which increases the likelihood of heart disease, diabetes, some types of cancer and arthritis, has become twice as common in the nation since 1980. About 39 million Americans were obese in 2000, according to the U.S. government.
“The $75 billion number is about 5.7 percent of annual health care expenditures. Estimates for smoking are about 6 or 7 percent,” said Eric Finkelstein, the study’s lead author and an economist with North Carolina think tank RTI International.
RTI did the study in cooperation with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The study, which will be published in this month’s issue of Obesity Research, were based on a statistical analysis of government data collected for the 1998 to 2000 period. Researchers used the data to project obesity spending in 2003 dollars.
Their analysis found that government-funded Medicare and Medicaid programs, which help millions of seniors and poor residents get access to health care, paid out an estimated $39 billion for obesity-related medical costs in 2003. The study was made public on the same day that the United States succeeded in stalling a global obesity-control plan promoted by the World Health Organization.
Backed by its powerful food industry, the United States called on Tuesday for more study of the U.N. agency’s plan, which urges cutting the intake of sugar, salt and artery-clogging trans-fatty acids and suggests governments promote healthier eating through ubsidies and the tax system. —Reuters