The prevalence of adult obesity exceeds 30% in the United States, posing a significant public health concern as well as a substantial financial burden. Although the impact of obesity on medical spending is undeniably significant, the estimated magnitude of the cost of obesity has varied considerably, perhaps driven by different study methodologies.
To document variations in study design and methodology in existing literature and to understand the impact of those variations on the estimated costs of obesity.
We conducted a systematic review of the twelve recently published articles that reported costs of obesity and performed a meta-analysis to generate a pooled estimate across those studies. Also, we performed an original analysis to understand the impact of different age groups, statistical models, and confounder adjustment on the magnitude of estimated costs using the nationally representative Medical Expenditure Panel Surveys from 2008-2010.
We found significant variations among cost estimates in the existing literature. The meta-analysis found that the annual medical spending attributable to an obese individual was $1901 ($1239-$2582) in 2014 USD, accounting for $149.4 billion at the national level. The two most significant drivers of variability in the cost estimates were age groups and adjustment for obesity-related comorbid conditions.
It would be important to acknowledge variations in the magnitude of the medical cost of obesity driven by different study design and methodology. Researchers and policy-makers need to be cautious on determining appropriate cost estimates according to their scientific and political questions.
David D. Kim Anirban Basu