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Obesity's Health Costs Double Earlier Estimates

THURSDAY, April 12 (HealthDay News) -- A new study finds that obesity accounts for nearly 21 percent of U.S. health care spending, which is more than twice as high as previous estimates.

The findings strengthen the case for government intervention to prevent obesity, said the researchers from Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.

The researchers found that an obese person's medical costs are $2,741 a year higher (in 2005 dollars) than if they were not obese. That works out to $190.2 billion a year nationally, or 20.6 percent of total U.S. health spending.

Previous estimates had put the cost of obesity at $85.7 billion a year, or 9.1 percent of total health spending.

"Historically, we've been underestimating the benefit of preventing and reducing obesity," study author John Cawley, a professor of economics and policy analysis and management at Cornell, said in a university news release.

"Obesity raises the risk of cancer, stroke, heart attack and diabetes," Cawley said. "For any type of surgery, there are complications [for the obese] with anesthesia, with healing. Obesity raises the costs of treating almost any medical condition. It adds up very quickly."

The study was published recently in the Journal of Health Economics.

More information

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

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCES: Cornell University, news release, April 9, 2012

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