Cornell study weighs the cost of obesity

ITHACA, N.Y. — Obesity now accounts for almost 21% of U.S. healthcare costs — more than twice the previous estimates — according to a new Cornell University study released Monday.

The research, one of the first to show a causal effect of obesity on medical care costs, utilized new methods and makes a stronger case for government intervention to prevent obesity, the authors wrote in the January issue of the Journal of Health Economics.

The study found that an obese person incurs medical costs that are $2,741 higher (in 2005 dollars) than if they were not obese. Nationwide, that translates into $190.2 billion per year, or 20.6% of national health expenditures. Previous estimates had pegged the cost of obesity at $85.7 billion, or 9.1% of national health expenditures.

“Historically we’ve been underestimating the benefit of preventing and reducing obesity,” stated lead author John Cawley, Cornell professor of policy analysis and management and of economics. “Obesity raises the risk of cancer, stroke, heart attack and diabetes. For any type of surgery, there are complications with anesthesia, with healing [for the obese]. … Obesity raises the costs of treating almost any medical condition. It adds up very quickly.”


Interested in this topic? Sign up for our weekly Collaborative Care e-newsletter.