Study: Obesity trumps smoking when it comes to impact on long-term healthcare costs


PHILADELPHIA — Obesity adds more to healthcare costs than smoking does, according to a study published in the March Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, the official publication of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

Both obesity and smoking were associated with excess costs for health care. Compared with nonsmokers, average health costs were $1,275 higher for smokers. But the incremental costs associated with obesity were even higher: $1,850 more than for normal-weight individuals. For those with morbid obesity, the excess costs were up to $5,500 per year.

The additional costs associated with obesity appeared lower after adjustment for other accompanying health problems. "This may lead to underestimation of the true incremental costs, since obesity is a risk factor for developing chronic conditions," lead author James Moriarty said. "Simultaneous estimates of incremental costs of smoking and obesity show that these factors appear to act as independent multiplicative factors." The study provides new insights into the long-term costs of obesity and smoking, showing that both risk factors lead to persistently higher health costs throughout a 7-year follow-up period.

Moriarty and colleagues of the Mayo Clinic analyzed the incremental costs of smoking and obesity among more than 30,000 Mayo Clinic employees and retirees. All had continuous health insurance coverage between 2001 and 2007.

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