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Excess Body Weight Tied to Higher Health Costs Across BMI Levels

WEDNESDAY, April 14, 2021 -- Excess body weight is associated with higher health care costs across body mass index (BMI) levels, according to a study published online March 24 in PLOS ONE.

Zachary J. Ward, M.P.H., Ph.D., from the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, and colleagues used data from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey 2011 to 2016 for 175,726 participants to estimate continuous BMI-related health care expenditures. BMI was adjusted for self-report bias using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2011 to 2016.

The researchers identified a J-shaped curve of medical expenditures by BMI, with higher costs for females; the lowest expenditures occurred at a BMI of 20.5 and 23.5 for adult women and men, respectively. Each one-unit increase in BMI over 30 units of BMI was associated with an estimated additional cost of $253 per person. Obesity was associated with an estimated $1,861 excess in annual medical costs per person among adults, accounting for annual expenditures of about $172.74 billion. Per adult, severe obesity was associated with excess annual costs estimated to be $3,097. Among children, obesity was associated with estimates for excess annual costs of $116 per person and medical spending of $1.32 billion; severe obesity was associated with estimated excess annual costs of $310 per child.

"These findings highlight the importance of promoting healthy weight across the entire BMI distribution, and provide policy makers and practitioners with more accurate estimates of the health care cost impact of excess weight by age, sex, and continuous BMI," the authors write.

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