Reporting their findings in the Health Affairs' Web site, researchers at RTI International, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that the prevalence of obesity increased by 37 percent between 1998 and 2006.
The researchers hold this increase responsible for 89 percent of the increase in obesity costs that occurred during this time period.
They say that their findings reveal that obesity is now responsible for 9.1 percent of annual medical expenditures, compared with 6.5 percent in 1998.
The findings also suggest that an obese person has 1,429 dollars per year more medical costs, or about 42 percent more costs, than someone of normal weight.
Costs for an obese Medicare recipient are even greater, say the researchers.
The study report says that much of the costs to Medicare are a result of the added prescription drug benefit.
According to it, the findings suggest that Medicare prescription drug payments for obese individuals are roughly 600 dollars more per year than drug payments for normal weight beneficiaries.
The study has also shown that 8.5 percent of Medicare expenditures, 11.8 percent of Medicaid expenditures, and 12.9 percent of private payer expenditures are attributable to obesity.
"Although bariatric surgery and other treatments for obesity are increasing in popularity, in actuality these treatments remain rare. As a result, the medical costs attributable to obesity are almost entirely a result of costs generated from treating the diseases that obesity promotes. Thus, obesity will continue to impose a significant burden on the health care system as long as the prevalence of obesity remains high," said Dr. Eric Finkelstein, director of RTI's Public Health Economics Program and the study's lead author.
A presentation on the study's findings was recently made, along with new recommendations designed to prevent and reduce the impact obesity, at the 'Weight of the Nation' conference in Washington, D.C.