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Health care spending for obese American adults soared 82 percent between 2001 and 2006

Research Activities, September 2009

Spending on health care for obese American adults rose from $167 billion to $303 billion (82 percent) between 2001 and 2006, according to the latest data from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). During the same period, total health care spending rose 36 percent (from $202 billion to $275 billion) for overweight adults and 25 percent (from $208 billion to $260 billion) for normal-weight adults. For an adult, a Body Mass Index (BMI)—measuring body fat in relation to height and weight—of 30.0 or more indicates obesity; a BMI between 25.0 and 29.9 indicates a person is overweight; and a BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 is in the normal weight range. This analysis examined total health care spending, including doctor visits, hospital outpatient visits, emergency room visits, hospitalizations, home health care services, dental visits, other medical expenses, and prescription drugs in 2001 and 2006. It also found that:

  • The proportion of overall medical care spending associated with obese adults grew from 28 percent to 35 percent in contrast to a decline from 35 percent to 30 percent among normal-weight adults.
  • Obese adults also comprised the highest proportion of adults who reported having one or more chronic conditions (57 and 60 percent, respectively) for the years 2001 and 2006.
  • The number of obese Americans increased from 48 million people to 59 million people between 2001 and 2006.

These data are taken from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS), a detailed source of information on the cost and use of health services by Americans and how they are paid. For more information, go to MEPS Statistical Brief #247, Trends in Health Care Expenditures by Body Mass Index (BMI) Category for Adults in the U.S. Civilian Noninstitutionalized Population, 2001 and 2006 at

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Page last reviewed September 2009
Internet Citation: Health care spending for obese American adults soared 82 percent between 2001 and 2006: Research Activities, September 2009. September 2009. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD.