Obesity, stress among factors predicting high health care costs

March 13, 2002

HEALTH BEHAVIOR NEWS SERVICE

Obesity, stress and other risk factors are important predictors of health care costs and service use among young employed adults, according to a new study.

"Lifestyle factors play a significant role in the ongoing battle against morbidity, mortality and health care costs," say researchers Larry A. Tucker, Ph.D, and Alan G. Clegg, MS, of Brigham Young University in the March/April issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion. "Clearly, differences in medical utilization and expenses cannot be attributed solely to health status or risks. However, the present findings indicate that health risks help to explain some of the differences in utilization and costs."

Employees and spouses at a technology-oriented company in the western United States voluntarily participated in worksite health screening, and their health care use and costs were then tracked for two years. The risk assessment appraised overall wellness, exercise habits, obesity and stress. The relationship between the study participants' potential health risk factors and their health care utilization and costs were then evaluated.

The 982 subjects had an average of 18 medical claims and incurred an average of $1,878 in medical costs during the two years. Those with high-risk scores for overall wellness, stress and obesity used more health care services and had higher health care costs than those who were at lower risk. However, exercise habits were not associated with participants' use of health care services or their health care costs.

People with high risk on the scale of overall wellness were nearly 2.4 times more likely than the others to have health care expenses of $5,000 or more over the two years. People with high stress were 1.9 times more likely and obese people were 1.7 times more likely to have expenses at that level, the researchers found.

The study participants were 18 to 68 years of age, with an average age of 32 years. More than half of the participants (55.7 percent) were women, and most of the participants were white and worked in clerical, sales or administrative jobs. Only 17 of the subjects were current smokers, so cigarette smoking was not used as a potential predictor of health care utilization or costs in the study.

"In short," the researchers conclude, "it appears that businesses with employees that live healthy lifestyles will benefit by lower health care utilization and costs."
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The American Journal of Health Promotion is a bimonthly peer-reviewed journal dedicated to the field of health promotion. For information about the journal call (248) 682-0707 or visit the journal's website at www.healthpromotionjournal.com.

Posted by the Center for the Advancement of Health http://www.cfah.org. For more research news and information, go to our special section devoted to health and behavior in the "Peer-Reviewed Journals" area of Eurekalert!, http://www.eurekalert.org/restricted/reporters/journals/cfah/. For information about the Center, call Ira Allen, iallen@cfah.org (202) 387-2829.

Center for Advancing Health

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