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Obesity drives health care spend more than previously estimated

A major contributing factor to the health insurance crisis is an epidemic of obesity that’s boosting the health care spend and accounting nearly a quarter of health care costs.  A Cornell University study published in the January issue of the Journal of Health Economics estimates obese patients incur medical costs that are $2,741 higher in 2005 dollars than if they were not obese. Nationwide, that translates into $190.2 billion per year, or 20.6 percent of national health expenditures, according to the research, which notes earlier estimates measured the cost of obesity at $85.7 billion, or 9.1 percent of national health expenditures.

While a major driver of health care spending, obesity is merely a distressing symptom of a larger dysfunctional set of American cultural economic and lifestyle choices that drive up health care utilization.  They include poor work-life balance (long workweeks, long commutes to obsolete office spaces and associated stress), lack of exercise (and sufficient time for sustained daily exercise), too little sleep, unhealthy diets (and their commercialization via the “foodie” culture) and the expectation that health issues can be “repaired” by medical treatment and the state of the art pharmaceuticals.

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