How Can the United States Keep Obesity-Related Health Care Costs Under Control?

The cost of health care lies at the heart of many policy debates, but there is very little debate about the significance of rising costs associated with obesity.

Nearly 69 percent of Americans are overweight or obese. Related health care costs now exceed $147 billion annually, more than $60 billion of which is covered by Medicare and Medicaid.

Investments in efforts to prevent chronic health problems like obesity can have significant budget savings. Yet despite widespread evidence that prevention efforts can save lives and money, for every dollar spent on health care in the United States, only four cents goes towards public health and prevention.

The situation is untenable. Unless the obesity epidemic is reversed, overall medical spending will outpace GDP growth. If obesity rates are reduced by as little as 5 percent, health care savings could exceed $29 billion.

This Health Policy Snapshot, published online in March 2012, looks at the long-term cost effectiveness of curbing the obesity epidemic. 

Read more from RWJF's Health Policy Snapshot series.

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