Medical costs associated with treating obesity-related diseases in the United States could increase by as much as $66 billion annually by the year 2030, based on current trends, according to a new study released by the health policy group Trust for America's Health.
The state-by-state analysis of obesity-linked disease rates and associated medical spending, released Sept. 18 by the Washington-based organization, also projects that obese individuals could account for 44 percent of all American adults by 2030 if obesity rates nationwide continue to grow at their current pace.
According to the study, "F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America's Future 2012," that rate of growth would likely lead to more than 6 million new cases of type 2 diabetes, 5 million cases of coronary heart disease and stroke, and more than 400,000 cancer diagnoses in the next 20 years.
Those new cases will add between $48 billion and $66 billion per year to the nation's spending on direct costs for obesity-related medical care by 2030 under current projections, according to the study.
An unchanged growth rate of the percentage of obese Americans also would significantly inflate indirect costs over the same 18-year period, the report says. The associated loss in economic productivity, the study predicts, could be between $390 billion and $580 billion annually.
The study also notes that workers' compensation claims costs generated by obese employees are typically much higher than those generated by "healthy weight" workers, though it did not provide a year-over-year prediction for cost growth under current conditions.
Choosing a future
Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president and CEO of the Princeton, New Jersey-based Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which co-sponsored the study, said in a statement on Sept. 18 that the study "shows us two futures for America's health."
The projected growth rate of obesity and its attendant health and financial impacts over the next 20 years could be lowered significantly if individual states can reduce the average body mass index of their residents by 5 percent by 2030, Lavizzo-Mourey said.
"At every level of government, we must pursue policies that preserve health, prevent disease and reduce health care costs. Nothing less is acceptable," she said.
As dire as the study's predictions are for the nation as a whole, they are even more so for certain states. Under current growth projections, obesity rates in 13 states — including Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri and Oklahoma — likely would rise above 60 percent by 2030. Nine states — including Alaska, Colorado, New Hampshire and New Jersey — would see annual medical costs associated with obesity-related treatments increase between 20 percent and 34.5 percent by 2030.
Conversely, a reduction of their residents' average BMI by 5 percent over those same 20 years would shave as much as 7.8 percent off projected medical cost growth in every state but Florida, which would likely see a 2.1 percent reduction in obesity-related costs due largely to the relatively high average age of its population, the study said.
"We know a lot more about how to prevent obesity than we did 10 years ago," said Jeff Levi, executive director of Trust for America's Health. "This report outlines how policies like increasing physical activity time in schools and making fresh fruits and vegetables more affordable can help make healthier choices easier. Small changes can add up to a big difference. Policy changes can help make healthier choices easier for Americans in their daily lives."