Assessing the Economics of Obesity and Obesity Interventions

The health and economic future of our nation depends on reversing the obesity epidemic. Obesity costs $136.5 billion a year in additional spending by Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurers. Beyond health care costs, obesity impacts productivity, transportation and lost opportunity for individuals.

These authors, in a major report funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, describe the size and nature of the epidemic and detail an array of proven clinically effective and cost-effective interventions that are school-, community- and workplace-based, pharmaceutical and surgical.

Most significantly, they find that the full benefits of promising obesity interventions are not likely to be reflected in measurements provided to policy-makers. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) cost estimates cover a 10-year budget window, while the costly implications of obesity—including chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and hypertension—take longer to manifest.

The authors recommend that the CBO produce cost estimates for legislation covering 25 years rather than 10 years. “That would allow Congress to weigh the inevitable short-term spending increases associated with more intensive prevention efforts against the potential for offsetting spending reductions over the longer term,” they write.

To build consensus support for such an approach, the authors recommend that a bi-partisan joint task force be appointed.