Lifetime Risks And Costs Of Heart Disease Much Higher For Obese

November 10, 1998

DALLAS, Nov. 10 -- The expected lifetime risks and costs of heart disease are much higher for individuals who are obese, according to a study presented today at the American Heart Association's 71st Scientific Sessions.

"Compared to individuals who are not overweight, individuals who are obese have elevated risks of heart disease and can expect to incur higher medical-care costs as a result," says the study's lead author David Thompson, Ph.D., senior economist, Policy Analysis, Inc., Brookline, Mass.

The study found that men, 45 to 54 years of age who are not obese, faced a 35 percent chance of developing coronary heart disease during their lifetimes; risks increased to 38 percent for those who were mildly obese, 42 percent for those who were moderately obese, and 46 percent for those who were severely obese. Risks increased from 25 percent for the women who are not obese, to 29 percent, 32 percent, and 37 percent, depending the level of obesity.

Obesity is frequently measured using the body mass index (BMI), a method of estimating a person's body fat. BMI is calculated by dividing weight in kilograms by the square of height in meters. Based on National Institutes of Health guidelines, individuals with BMIs of 30 or greater are considered obese, while those with BMIs of 25 -29 are considered overweight. In this study, a BMI of 22.5 was considered to represent individuals who are not obese while BMIs of 27.5, 32.5, and 37.5 were chosen to represent mild, moderate, and severe obesity respectively.

As a result of these increased risks, average expected lifetime medical-care costs for the treatment of heart disease are as much as $6,000 higher for severely obese individuals compared to those individuals who are not obese. For men, expected lifetime costs of heart disease increased from $10,500 for the individuals who are not obese, to $12,000 for those mildly obese, $14,000 for those moderately obese, and $16,400 for those severely obese. For women, expected lifetime heart-disease costs increased from $5,800 for the individuals who are not obese, to $6,700 for those mildly obese, $7,900 for those moderately obese and $9,400 for the severely obese.

"Our findings indicate that obesity imposes a significant health and economic burden on individuals who are obese," says Thompson. "Clearly, efforts to reduce the prevalence of obesity can have important benefits in terms of reduction in the risks and costs of coronary heart disease."

The American Heart Association recently designated obesity as a major modifiable risk factor for heart disease. While health-care expenditures in the U.S. attributable to obesity have been estimated to total over $50 billion, this is the first study that pinpoints the expected lifetime costs of obesity from the perspective of an individual person, says Thompson.

The study also reported that individuals who are obese are likely to live a greater portion of their lives with heart disease. The expected number of years of life with heart disease increased from 2.7 among men, age 45 to 54, who are not obese, to 3.1 for those mildly obese, 3.7 for those moderately obese, and 4.5 years for those severely obese. Expected years with heart disease for women of the same age ranged from 2.2 for those of normal weight to 3.7 for the severely obese.

The study was based on data from the Framingham Heart Study and the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Thompson says he and his colleagues conducted the study to increase awareness of the health and economic consequences of excess body weight. "The problem of obesity is reaching epidemic proportions," he says. "In the past 15 years alone, obesity has increased from one-quarter to one-third of the U.S. population. Any increase in weight is placing a person at an increased health risk."

Co-authors are John Edelsberg, M.D., M.P.H.; Amy P. Bird, B.S.; Gerry Oster, Ph.D.; and Graham A. Colditz, M.D., Dr.P.H.
For more information Nov. 8-11
contact Darcy Spitz or Brian Henry
Dallas County Convention Center
(214) 853-8056

American Heart Association

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