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U.S. Underestimates Long-Term Costs of Obesity, Experts Say
Date:3/21/2012

Health Policy, LLC.

One estimate puts the annual cost of obesity at $147 billion, representing almost 10 percent of all medical expenses, the report said. But the Society of Actuaries -- which adds in lost productivity, employees on full disability and absenteeism -- puts the costs closer to $300 billion a year.

And at a minimum, the Congressional Budget Office predicts that per-person, obesity-related spending will increase an average of 3.6 percent a year, the report said.

The authors are asking those who make up budgets, including the Congressional Budget Office, to take into account a growing body of scientific literature on the toll of diabetes as well as hopeful interventions when they tally the price of obesity.

A window of 25 years will help policy makers arrive at more accurate long-term estimates, they said.

"Ten years is adequate for food stamps and aircraft carriers, but there are certain policy areas where we know the disease has a 20- to 25-year progression. You need the flexibility to go beyond 10 years," O'Grady said. "We probably want to modify the status quo of how we measure these things in order to capture the full value of that."

Marks said two of the greatest challenges the nation faces are restoring global economic competitiveness and the skyrocketing costs of medical care, which has become perhaps the biggest obstacle to long-term economic strength.

"Obesity lies right at the center of those challenges," he said. "The way Congress acts to score legislation, using only a 10-year horizon, misses a huge part of the value of preventive efforts."

The authors served in the George W. Bush administration. O'Grady was assistant secretary of Health and Human Services, and co-author James Capretta served as an associate director of the Office of Management and Budget.

More information

Visit the Campaign to End Obesity for more
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