# Obesity and health - pointer to a way to reduce costs?

1. Jul 19, 2008

### Nereid

Staff Emeritus
I caught the tail end of a news item, something about 25% of New York (city? state?) residents being obese (presumably including whatever is more than obese)*, and that got me thinking.

Take all the research results on health, nutrition, etc, and assume a New York population that has an average BMI of 22 (the optimal, right?), with a sigma about the mean of 2 (or 3), and some modest number of 'outliers' (various pathologies, etc - people with essentially zero control over their way-off-the-mean BMIs). Assume a similar distribution re healthy lifestyles (diet, exercise, no smoking, moderate alcohol consumption, etc, etc, etc), and a similar number of 'outliers'.

Plug in reasonable values for the cost of treating illnesses, accidents, prudent screening (breast cancer, colon cancer, ...), etc.

Assume a competitive market (pharmaceuticals, health care providers, etc).

From the current ~17% of GDP that US spends on health care (broadly defined), how great would the drop be?

* I think I also heard that this has more than doubled in just a decade or two ...

2. Jul 21, 2008

### Nereid

Staff Emeritus
Where's the lead balloon smilie when you need it?

63 views, zero replies ...

3. Jul 21, 2008

### Moonbear

Staff Emeritus
:rofl: I have no idea what the numbers might be. I'm sure someone has at least guesstimated this at some time, since reduction of costs associated with obesity related illnesses is one of the arguments people studying the mechanisms of obesity and appetite regulation use to justify getting funding for their research. Or maybe they just toss around costs of healthcare for obesity-related illnesses without really sorting out the cases of those illnesses directly due to obesity vs those due to unrelated causes (i.e., genetic predisposition). It's not hard, though, to at least hand-wave that if we eliminated the illnesses directly attributed to obesity that could be treated or even cured simply by losing weight and/or maintaining a healthy weight, we'd see a reduction in health care costs. I'm just not sure how much of a reduction.

4. Jul 21, 2008

### wolram

5. Jul 21, 2008

### Staff: Mentor

I think it is difficult to find sufficient information in one spot to make an estimate on the savings of health care, if everyone adopted a 'healthy' lifestyle.

http://win.niddk.nih.gov/statistics/#econ
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9545015
Current [1998] estimates of the economic cost of obesity in the United States.

http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/topics/obesity/calltoaction/references.htm

Apparently the US spent about $2.25 trillion on health care in 2007 or about ~16% of the GDP. From fast facts at KFF.org - http://facts.kff.org/?CFID=33132100&CFTOKEN=43374458 Perhaps with a healthy lifestyle (for all), we could reduce health care costs by 1/2 or ~$1 trillion.

Interestingly - The top 1% of the U.S. population was responsible for 23% of health care spending in 2005 - from fast facts at KFF.org

6. Jul 22, 2008

### Nereid

Staff Emeritus
Thanks everyone.

Astronuc, I think those estimates are conservative, perhaps very conservative.

FWIW, I recall reading that the % of GDP devoted to health care in the US is ~2x that of the next highest developed economy (Germany?), and the 'bang for bucks' is even worse (e.g. life expectancy at birth is lower in the US than almost every other developed economy). Further, although overweight/obesity trends are comparable across many (but not all?) developed economies, the US leads the pack by a long way.

But that the US system is stupendously inefficient, by almost every sensible metric, is not news.

What may be news is just how huge the incremental impact on total health care expenditure of 'unhealthy lifestyles' (defined broadly) will be.

And perhaps there's a finding of relevance to economists too: consumers are anything but rational, at least when it comes to their own health and well-being ...

7. Jul 22, 2008

### Staff: Mentor

Hey, be careful there. You're going to cause a lot of fast food "restaurant" workers to lose their jobs. But I guess there'll be a fairly equivalent number of new openings in the growing exercise/Gym industry....