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Adolescent females who are overweight have higher health expenditures than adolescent males who are overweight

Research Activities, February 2009, No. 344

Many overweight children and adolescents suffer similar health problems as overweight adults, including Type 2 diabetes and sleep apnea. Half of these younger children and teens will go on to become overweight adults. Focusing on adolescents, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality researcher Jessica P. Vistnes, Ph.D., and colleagues, Alan C. Monheit, Ph.D., M.A., and Jeannette A. Rogowski, Ph.D., used 2001-2003 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey data for 3,463 males and 3,275 females to examine whether overweight adolescents (ages 12-19) incur greater health care expenditures than adolescents of normal weight. Fourteen percent of adolescents in their sample were overweight, which was measured by body mass index. Males who were overweight or at risk of becoming overweight did not have higher health care expenditures compared with males with normal bodyweights. However, females who were overweight had predicted annual health expenditures of $2,101 compared with $1,311 for females of normal body weight, a difference of $790. Females at risk of becoming overweight had predicted expenditures of $1,778, a difference of $467.

Among those incurring health expenditures, the researchers found that, in addition to having slightly higher rates of diabetes and high blood pressure, 18.7 percent of overweight female adolescents had mental health conditions compared with 12 percent of normal weight females. Further, overweight females had annual mental health expenditures that were $208 more than normal weight female adolescents, and those who were at risk of being overweight had $286 in additional mental health expenditures. The authors caution that being overweight may not be the reason these female teens seek mental health treatment, arguing that some conditions, such as depression and associated drug therapies, could cause adolescent teens to become overweight.

These findings should also not be interpreted to mean that campaigns to decrease the number of overweight adolescents should be targeted solely at females, the authors suggest. Both males and females can benefit from learning good health habits that they can take into adulthood.

See "Overweight in adolescents: Implications for health expenditures," by Drs. Monheit, Vistnes, and Rogowski in the August 2008 Economics and Human Biology (e-pub ahead of print). Reprints (AHRQ Publication No. 09-R009) are available from the AHRQ Publications Clearinghouse

Page last reviewed February 2009
Internet Citation: Adolescent females who are overweight have higher health expenditures than adolescent males who are overweight: Research Activities, February 2009, No. 344. February 2009. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD.