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Press Release

Embargoed until:
January 21, 2004; 1:00 PM EST
Contact: RTI Public Affairs
(919) 541-7044
CDC Chronic Disease Press Office
(770) 488-5820

Obesity Costs States Billions in Medical Expenses

A new study by researchers at RTI International and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that U.S. obesity-attributable medical expenditures reached $75 billion in 2003 and that taxpayers finance about half of these costs through Medicare and Medicaid. The findings will be published in this month’s issue of Obesity Research.

Total state-level expenditure estimates in 2003 dollars range from $87 million in Wyoming to $7.7 billion in California. Obesity-attributable Medicaid expenditure estimates range from $23 million in Wyoming to $3.5 billion in New York. Medicare expenditures range from $15 million in Wyoming to $1.7 billion in California.

“Obesity has become a crucial health problem for our nation, and these findings show that the medical costs alone reflect the significance of the challenge,” said HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson. “Of course the ultimate cost to Americans is measured in chronic disease and early death. We must take responsibility both as individuals and working together to reduce the health toll associated with obesity.”

The estimated percentage of annual medical expenditures in each state attributable to obesity ranges from 4 percent in Arizona to 6.7 percent in Alaska. For Medicare expenditures, the percentage ranges from 3.9 percent for Arizona to 9.8 percent for Delaware. For Medicaid recipients, the percentages are much higher – ranging from 7.7 percent in Rhode Island to 15.7 percent in Indiana.

“These estimates of obesity-attributable medical expenditures present the best available information concerning the economic impact of obesity at the state level,” said Eric A. Finkelstein, an RTI economist and lead author of the article. The figures confirm earlier findings that obesity accounts for a significant, and preventable, portion of the nation’s medical bill.

“This report is alarming given that obesity has been shown to promote many chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, several types of cancer, and gallbladder disease,” said Dr. Julie Gerberding, CDC director. “The long-term effects of obesity on our nation’s health and on our economy should not be underestimated.”

According to CDC’s 1999-2000 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), an estimated 64 percent of U.S. adults are either overweight (33 percent) or obese (31 percent). Another CDC survey – the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) 1998-2000 (pooled data) revealed that self-reported obesity prevalence ranges from 15 percent in Colorado to 25 percent in West Virginia. Among Medicare recipients, obesity prevalence ranges from 12 percent in Hawaii to 30 percent in Washington, D.C. Obesity prevalence among Medicaid recipients is much higher, ranging from 21 percent in Rhode Island to 44 percent in Indiana.

State-Level Estimates of Annual Medical Expenditures Attributable to Obesity, by Eric A. Finkelstein and Ian C. Fiebelkorn, RTI International, and Guijing Wang, CDC, appears in the January 2004 issue of the journal Obesity Research, published by the North American Association for the Study of Obesity. The article is available on-line at beginning January 23.

RTI International is an independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to conducting research that improves the human condition. For more information, visit RTI’s Web site at For more information about overweight and obesity visit CDC’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Web site at

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This page last updated January 21, 2004

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