Obesity-related medical costs double earlier findings

Spending on obesity is worse than we thought. A National Bureau of Economic Research study found that obesity actually accounts for 17 percent of all medical costs annually, as opposed to 9 percent as previously determined last year. 

The NBER research, conducted by John Cawley of Cornell University and Chad Meyerhoefer of Lehigh University, concluded medical costs in relation to obesity are closer to $170 billion per year than $150 billion due in large part to understated self-reporting and overly cautious research gathering, reports the Associated Press. The new report tries to take both factors into account and adjusts the statistics accordingly via balanced "repeated replications to estimate standard errors," the study's authors write. 

"The authors tried to better establish that excess weight was a cause for medical costs," the AP reports. "Previous studies stopped short of saying obesity caused the costs because there was too great a chance other factors could be responsible." 

The researchers compiled statistics from the exact same database used to come up with the $150 billion figure, which included information on 24,000 non-elderly adults gathered from 2000 to 2005. While the earlier estimate determined that obesity added $1,400 to a person's annual medical bill, the new calculations found that number to be more than $2,800. 

Cawley and Meyerhoefer point out that the motivation behind their research is not to push for more funding related to the treatment of obesity, but simply to inform. "This paper does not estimate the medical care cost of obesity in order to argue that treatment of obesity should be prioritized above treatment of other conditions, but so that the medical care consequences of obesity will be more accurately known," they write. 

To learn more:
- here's the NBER report
- read the Associated Press article