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Health Care Spending Associated with Obesity Grows 29% from 2001 to 2015

February 21, 2018

Research published earlier this year shows that a substantial and rising percentage of health care spending is associated with obesity. 

According to the study published in Clinical Chemistry, the percent of U.S. medical expenditures devoted to treating obesity-related illness in adults rose from 6.1 percent during 2001 to 7.91 percent during 2015, an increase of 29 percent. 

The study analyzed data from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey for 2001–2015 and estimated the percentage of health care spending associated with adult obesity, both for the U.S. as a whole and for many states. 

The reported spending increase coincides with well-documented increases in the percentage of Americans who are obese. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), obesity rates among American adults more than doubled, from 15 percent (1976–1980) to 34 percent (2007–2008). Obesity now affects more than 36 percent of U.S. adults, according to the latest CDC data.

Both obesity rates and the percentage of obesity-associated health care spending varies greatly among states. In terms of spending, during 2015:

  • On the low end, some states (Arizona, California, Florida, and New York) devoted 5–6 percent of medical expenditures to obesity.
  • On the high end, other states (North Carolina, Ohio, and Wisconsin) spent more than 12 percent of expenditures on obesity.

States’ obesity rates during 2016 ranged from a low of about 20 percent to less than 25 percent (Colorado, Hawaii, and Massachusetts) to a high of 35 percent or more ((Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and West Virginia). 

With an obesity rate of 30 percent, Pennsylvania has a plan to reduce the prevalence of this condition, increase physical activity, and improve access to healthy foods and beverages. The Pennsylvania State Health Improvement Plan (SHIP) articulates obesity reduction goals to be achieved from 2015 to 2020. These include:

  • Reducing the percentage of adults who are obese to 27 percent through education and prevention of chronic disease and education about weight loss strategies and resources for healthy eating and physical activity in Pennsylvania communities
  • Reducing the percentage of youth who are overweight or obese from 39 percent to 36 percent through school-based policies and strategies similar to those described for adults 
  • Reducing the percentage of obese patients experiencing poor health from 26 percent to 23 percent through wellness checks, nutrition and diet, and physical activity
  • Reducing the percentage of Pennsylvanians who report no leisure-time physical activity from 26 percent to 23 percent by reducing barriers to parks, school campuses, and outdoor recreational opportunities and promoting walkability and bicycling
  • Increasing adolescent physical activity daily from 28 percent to 31 percent through school regulation updates such as updating the physical education curriculum
  • Improving access to healthy foods and beverages by improving access to fruits and vegetables for low-income at-risk individuals and promoting outreach

HAP participates with the Department of Health on SHIP advisory committee and task forces responsible for developing the plan and monitoring the progress toward goals.

Additionally, many hospitals and health systems across the state offer wellness programs that are designed to improve health. Programs range from childhood nutritional programs with schools to assure that students have access to food, especially in the summer, to participating with gleaning programs, to the COACH (Collaborative Opportunities to Advance Community Health) initiative, which connects food-insecure patients with food resources. 

For more information please contact Rob Shipp, HAP’s vice president, population health strategies.

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