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DHS news release

Jan. 21, 2004

Contact: Bonnie Widerburg (503) 731-4180
Technical contacts: Mel Kohn, M.D.,(503) 731-4023; Jim Edge (503) 945-5769

New study shows obesity has a significant economic impact


Obesity has become a critical health issue for Oregonians and now, researchers estimate that it is costing us millions in private and public health care dollars.

"Public health has focused on the health aspect of obesity, but this new report puts the issue in a startling new light," said Mel Kohn, M.D., state epidemiologist in the Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS). "Obesity is literally weighing us down, both physically and economically."

The study, conducted by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and RTI International, was published today as an article in a national medical journal. It contains obesity cost estimates for the entire country, with state-by-state breakdowns.

Researchers estimated that for 2003, Oregon's total medical obesity-related costs were $781 million, which is almost 6 percent of Oregon's total health care bill. They estimate that Medicaid had $180 million in direct, obesity-related expenses, representing almost 9 percent of Oregon's Medicaid budget.

"We're living in a time of soaring health care costs and limited tax dollars," said Jim Edge, DHS Medicaid assistant administrator. "The Oregon Health Plan is nationally renowned, and we want to use our limited resources to keep Oregon's low-income citizens as healthy and productive as possible."

Obesity-related services paid for by Medicaid include high blood pressure treatment, diabetes treatment, heart disease, strokes, and many physical disabilities, according to Edge.

"This report provides important information for policy makers, as they grapple with how best to allocate scarce resources," said Kohn.

Kohn said a broad variety of partners throughout the state are already working on obesity prevention programs. Last February, the Nutrition Council of Oregon and the Oregon Coalition for Promoting Physical Activity convened "A Healthy Active Oregon" summit in Portland and presented statewide plans for improving nutrition and physical activity.

"The plans are a framework for action and focus primarily on community action, on changing the current social and physical conditions to ones that promote healthy choices," Kohn said.

The complete analysis, "State-Level Estimates of Annual Medical Expenditures Attributable to Obesity," by Eric A. Finkelstein and Ian C. Fiebelkorn, RTI International, and Guiijing Wang, CDC, appears in the January 2004 Obesity Research journal. Copies of the paper are on the Web or copies of the full report may be requested by email to listen@rti.org

Copies of Oregon's statewide nutrition and physical activity plans are available on the Web.