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U.S. Pays High Price for Obesity

I recently read an article, new study, published in Obesity Magazine.

A U.S. adult who is “healthy” but obese could eventually cost society tens of thousands of dollars in medical care and lost wages. Using a computer model, researchers estimated the financial toll that obesity typically takes at different ages. They found, for example, that an obese 50-year-old with normal blood pressure and cholesterol levels will end up costing society more than $36,000.

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That societal figure included people’s direct medical care for obesity-related diseases, along with lost productivity from disability or time off from work.

The researchers said the findings offer a look at how obesity affects individuals, and society. When folks struggle with their weight, it ends up affecting everyone.

Because obesity contributes to a range of chronic health conditions — such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers — it ultimately raises everyone’s health insurance premiums, says Dr. Abkin. Of course the costs hit the individual, too. “You’re paying the insurance premium and the copays. And if your productivity is reduced, that affects your wallet, too.”

On the other hand, weight loss could bring big cost savings. The researchers estimated that if an obese 20-year-old shed enough pounds to drop to the overweight category, almost two-thirds of his lifetime costs to society could be avoided.

In my experience, there are benefits to losing weight well beyond age 20, says Dr. Abkin. I have a patient, who is over 70 years old. Her diabetes, obstructive sleep apnea, high cholesterol all went away after weight loss surgery. Her lifetime costs could be cut by as much as 40 percent. “So weight loss is cost-saving at any age,” says Dr. Abkin.

In the United States, it’s estimated that two-thirds of adults are obese or overweight.

“This study really documents the costs of untreated obesity — which is the norm in this country,” says Dr. Abkin, who was not involved in the research. He said that Americans who are struggling with their weight usually just get “casual advice” from their doctors to eat better and exercise. “I think it’s safe to say that most people do not get the kind of help that research has shown to be effective,” Dr. Abkin said.

As an example, he pointed to the well established programs, such as Weight Watches, LA Weight Loss, Jenny Craig,etc. Their long term success after 1 year of program is on average only 5-7 pounds, while costing hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. When compared to weight loss surgery, these programs pale in comparison,- 50% excess weight loss is accomplished by bariatric surgery, an it lasts long term.

What many obese people need is more intensive help with changing “deeply entrenched bad habits.” At Advanced Laparoscopic Surgeons of Morris, LLC, we have a comprehensive bariatric program, incorporating surgery, diet, exercise, counseling. Most people nowadays chose the procedure, called vertical sleeve gastrectomy, which allows weight loss by combining reduction in portions and decrease in levels of hunger hormone Ghrelin.

That approach allows our patients to overcome their biggest challenge, which is, of course, that you want permanent weight loss, not yo-yo dieting,” says Dr. Abkin.

Study used a computer model to estimate the lifetime medical costs and lost productivity of obese individuals at different ages. They pulled data from several large U.S. health studies to gauge people’s odds of developing various diseases over a lifetime.

Overall, the study found, people who were currently healthy but obese could eventually cost society anywhere from about $17,000 to just over $36,000 — depending on their age. (50-year-olds cost the most, while 80-year-olds cost the least.)

“This is an important study,” Dr. Abkin said. “It shows just how costly obesity can be if it’s untreated. It’s not about weight and appearance. It’s about your health.”

Alexander Abkin, MD, FACS
President
Advanced Laparoscopic Surgeons of Morris, LLC
www.alsnj.com

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