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The Economic Impact of Obesity

Posted on May 27, 2015 at 12:00 AM by Todd Eibes, MD


Employers are constantly looking for ways to decrease expenses. Surgical intervention in the treatment of obesity and morbid obesity offers the greatest impact to the bottom line by drastically improving employee health while reducing overall healthcare expenses.

                Obesity is an expanding epidemic in the United States. Current estimates from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) show that 78 million Americans are obese and 24 million are at least 100 lbs. overweight. The incidence has risen dramatically over the past decade. The resulting impact on the workforce is alarming. Being 100 lbs. overweight increases risk of premature death by 50-100%. Obese individuals also see triple the standard rates of type 2 diabetes and sleep apnea, and nearly double the rates of hypertension. There are currently 25 million cases of diabetes for which 95% is type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is primarily related to weight. Cancer risk is also increased with estimates of 84,500 cases due to obesity in 2007 and predictions of 500,000 new cancers due to obesity by 2030.

                The economic impact to the economy is staggering. Estimates show that in 2011 approximately $270 billion was spent in treating complications of obesity and another $72 billion was spent due to overweight patients. Indirect costs to employers due to decreased productivity, increased absenteeism, inability to work, and premature death add up to $69 billion annually. Diabetic care alone accounts for $7,900 per patient annually.

                Surgical care in the treatment of morbid obesity offers the greatest impact in improving both the health of the workforce and decreasing costs for employers. Currently, the risk of weight loss surgery is very low with the chance of dying at 0.1%. To put this into perspective, mortality rates from gallbladder removal are 0.7%, and hip replacement is 0.93%. The overall complication rate for surgery is 4%. Surgical costs vary by procedure, but range from $11,500 – $26,000. Following weight loss surgery, the improvement in related diseases is dramatic. Up to 75% of type 2 diabetes and 80% of sleep apnea go into remission. Estimates show that 3rd party payers recover the entire cost of surgery within 2-4 years. Annual healthcare costs per employee are decreased by 34% at two years and by 70% at three years following surgery. Individual worker productivity is estimated to increase by $2,765 annually.

                When results are compared with dieting in patients 100 lbs. or more overweight, there are also striking differences. The average weight loss with simple dieting at one year is 7% of excess body weight lost. Surgery averages 65% of excess weight lost in one year. Medications help those who are dieting, but only bring the excess weight loss up to 15-20%. When examining how many patients can lose half of their excess weight, the surgical patients succeed in 90% of cases while dieter’s only succeed in 1%.

Iowa Weight Loss Specialists is dedicated to personal, customized, and successful weight loss so patients can live a long, healthy life. Find out more about our surgical and non-surgical programs at or call 515-327-2000.

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