In a New York Post Opinion piece the following claim was made:

An obese adult uses 42 percent more health care than a healthy-weight adult, and a morbidly obese adult uses a staggering 81 percent more, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

I tried to find this stat on the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation website, but could not, and it wasn't linked in the NYP article.

I can't say I'm exactly sure of the claim meaning, as "health care" can be measured in time and number of services, as well as dollars, but dollars seems to be the focus. Additionally, the timeframe nor frequency are specified, as this unanswered skeptics question illustrates that lifetime costs and yearly costs could yield different impressions and cost-mitigation decisions.

The idea that obesity is responsible for more health care usage is not new, and considering the long list of correlated illnesses, it makes sense. However, I've never seen such exact numbers claimed, so that is what I want to verify. Do obese adults use 42% more health care and morbidly obese adults use 81% more health care?

1 Answer 1


According to The Healthcare Costs of Obesity, copyright Robert Wood Johnson Foundation:

Obese adults spend 42 percent more on direct healthcare costs than adults who are a healthy weight. [reference 5]

Per capita healthcare costs for severely or morbidly obese adults (BMI >40) are 81 percent higher than for healthy weight adults.[reference 6]

Where reference 6 is Impact of morbid obesity on medical expenditures in adults International Journal of Obesity volume 29, pages334–339 (2005) which says:

Overall per capita healthcare expenditures for morbidly obese adults were $1975 greater than normal-weight adults (81% greater; 95% CI: 48–121%), $1735 greater than overweight adults (65% greater; 95% CI: 37–110%), $1415 greater than adults with class I obesity (47% greater; 95% CI: 11–96%), and $888 greater than adults with class II obesity (25% greater; 95% CI: −2.3 to 52%).

And where reference 5 is is Annual Medical Spending Attributable To Obesity: Payer-And Service-Specific Estimates Health Affairs, volume 28, supplement 1, (2009), which says "41.5" percent for year 2006 in exhibit 1 of the article.

  • 1
    What does "Overall per capita healthcare expenditures" mean? Per captia means "per one hundred thousand". "Overall" means lifetime use, in a year, what?
    – user11643
    Commented Sep 24, 2019 at 20:02
  • 3
    @fredsbend the "81%" is specifically for the year 2000. "Per capita" means per one person. "Overall" means money spent on "office-based visits, outpatient hospital visits, in-patient hospital visits, and prescription drugs"
    – DavePhD
    Commented Sep 24, 2019 at 20:18
  • @DavePhD So the costs of all "office-based ... "prescription drugs" used in the whole lifetime of a morbidly obese person is 81% more than the same for a healthy person, and this is estimated from the data available in 2000? Or the "overall" costs were only those occurring during year 2000, so it's for only one year of life? Commented Sep 25, 2019 at 7:13
  • @GiacomoAlzetta Just for that particular year, 2000. Not lifetime.
    – DavePhD
    Commented Sep 25, 2019 at 12:18

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