WebMD Medical News - March 12, 2002
Obesity Health Costs Outweigh Smoking
By Jennifer Warner
Our obesity epidemic may be contributing more to America's rising health
care and drug costs than the better-known evils of smoking and alcohol
abuse -- indicating that obesity may be more harmful to our health.
Researchers say being obese increases how much a person spends on medical
services by 36% and on medications by 77% compared with what a
normal-weight person would spend.
In comparison, even with all the known health risks of smoking and alcohol
abuse, the researchers found only a 21% rise in health care costs and a 28%
rise in medication costs with active smoking, and even more modest cost
increases with alcohol abuse.
In fact, the report suggests that being obese effectively ages you 20
years, putting an obese 30-year-old in the same risk group as a
normal-weight 50-year-old for developing lifelong medical problems like
cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. Obesity increases risk of lifelong
medical conditions more than smoking or alcohol abuse, says study author
Roland Sturm, an economist at RAND, a nonprofit think tank, in a news
release. And obesity does more damage to quality of life.
He also points out that some other health-related aspects of smoking and
problem drinking were not included in this economic study and may affect
their overall impact on public health. For example, smoking may still
account for more premature deaths and alcohol is likely to account for more
The study, published in the March/April issue of Health Affairs, adds to
mounting concerns that the rapidly growing number of overweight and obese
Americans could significantly harm the nation's overall health.
Who, exactly, is obese? Anyone with a body mass index -- a measure of
weight in relation to height -- of more than 30. For example, someone who
is 5 feet 8 inches tall and weights 197 pounds or more. According to a
recent report by the Surgeon General, 27% of Americans fall into that
category, and a staggering 61% of us qualify as overweight.
By Michael Smith, MD
© 2002 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.