Obesity related health care can be costly

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ATLANTA - Diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and asthma are all diseases associated with obesity, and the drugs used to treat them are costly.

Emory University Dr. Ken Thorpe has been studying obesity in Georgia for 10 years. He said costs related to obesity are in the billions.

"It adds about $700 per adult to the cost of health care every year," Thorpe said. "In the state of Georgia, obesity costs the healthcare system about $4.4 billion a year."

The future for Georgia doesn't look good. Officials at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta are seeing adult-type diseases in overweight children.

"We are seeing kids with adult onset diabetes that we've never seen before. Kids with hypertension, high blood pressure, getting diabetes at an earlier age," said CHOA Chief Administrative Officer Linda Matzigkeit. "If we don't stop this, we are going to have a health epidemic like we have never seen."

Thorpe said since the mid-1980s, obesity in adults has doubled, and the biggest driver of the costly chronic diseases is obesity. He said treatments for obesity-related diseases have accounted for 84 percent of what citizens spend on health care.

"It adds to health insurance premiums that everybody pays, whether you're normal weight or an obese person. It's adding about 20 percent to the cost of a typical private health insurance policy," Thorpe said.

Georgia Public Health Commissioner Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald said she believes trying to stop the state's childhood obesity epidemic is one of the most important things Georgia is doing.

"(It's) an economic issue. How can we attract companies to come to Georgia when we say, 'We want you to come here because our folks are sick'? They're going to be out of work a lot. They're not going to be very productive, and they are going to cost you a lot for your insurance," Fitzgerald said.

Thorpe has also studied those numbers.

"If you just look at lost workdays as a very narrow way of thinking about productivity, that alone is contributing about $4 billion in reductions in economy to the state of Georgia," Thorpe said.

Getting Georgians and Americans fit is not only a good health move, it's also cost-effective. Experts said we need to focus on our children.

"We have to identify and understand the financial impact, in addition to (the) health impact that obesity has, and really look for effective solutions to try to address them," Thorpe said.



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