Why being overweight may cost more than obesity

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Over the past four decades, Norway has seen a significant increase in the average body weight of its population.

While the prevalence of obesity (defined as a body mass index, or BMI, over 30) has surged, the number of people classified as overweight (BMI between 25 and 30) has also risen. This trend has raised concerns about the overall health and economic impact.

A recent study conducted by researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) has revealed an intriguing paradox:

While obesity is often associated with high health costs due to an increased risk of various health problems, being overweight can have a more substantial impact on society’s healthcare expenses.

The researchers used data from the HUNT Study, a long-term population health study in Norway, to examine the relationship between BMI and healthcare costs.

The study encompassed 119,386 individuals, revealing that 75% of men and 61% of women were overweight or obese. Within this group, 3.7% of men and 6.6% of women had a BMI over 35.

The study’s findings challenged the common perception that obesity incurs the highest health costs. While individuals with obesity do have the highest individual healthcare expenses, the overall societal cost is driven by the larger number of people who fall into the overweight category.

At the individual level, an increase in BMI resulted in higher healthcare costs for those with the highest BMIs. For instance, the difference in average healthcare costs between a man with a BMI of 37 and a man with a BMI of 38 was NOK 2,110 (approximately US $198) per year.

However, the increase in healthcare costs was relatively small for those with BMIs in the overweight range (25 to 30).

The societal-level analysis painted a different picture. The most significant increase in healthcare costs was attributed to changes in BMI among individuals classified as overweight and those with mild obesity (BMI between 30 and 35). This was true for both men and women.

In essence, while obesity elevates the risk of certain diseases, the larger proportion of the population falling into the overweight category contributes more significantly to overall healthcare costs.

The study’s authors emphasized that their goal was not to stigmatize individuals with obesity but to highlight the collective impact of weight gain on healthcare expenses. They suggested that this insight should guide policymakers in addressing the obesity epidemic.

The researchers urged policymakers to consider population-level interventions, such as those implemented to reduce smoking rates, which can be controversial but effective.

Measures like advertising bans, taxation, and access restrictions on unhealthy foods could be explored to combat the growing problem of overweight and obesity.

In summary, this study challenges the conventional view that obesity is the primary driver of high healthcare costs.

Instead, it underscores the importance of addressing weight gain across the population and implementing comprehensive public health measures to combat the issue at its root.

If you care about obesity, please read studies about Obesity drugs can help prevent weight regain after weight loss surgery and findings of Research shows big hidden cause of obesity.

For more information about weight loss, please see recent studies about best cheeses to improve diabetes and lose weight, and results showing gastric sleeve weight-loss surgery: a real story.

The research findings can be found in Journal of the Norwegian Medical Association.

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