4 ways Obesity is Impacting the Healthcare System
4 Ways Obesity is Impacting the Healthcare System

Obesity is impacting the healthcare system in many ways. Obesity is a significant driver of healthcare costs and can negatively impact a patient's overall quality of life. Studies show obesity can reduce a patient's life expectancy up to 10 years and significantly increases the risk for numerous leading causes of death, including diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and some cancers. Obesity and its associated conditions also have a substantial impact on the health system as a whole.

Obesity and its associated conditions lead to a substantial increase in the utilization of health care services and resources, which in many areas are already at or beyond their capacity. In addition to the increased frequency of services required, obesity and its conditions also need a greater intensity and duration of service in many different episodes of care.

This increased frequency and intensity of care for obese patients dramatically increases health care costs for health care plans, the government, employers, and individuals. This results in health plans and systems having a higher cost of care when treating obese patients with comorbidities.

Yet, despite the rise of the obesity epidemic and the increasing costs associated with caring for this disease, there is still a wide gap between the care provided to the bariatric patient. This results in added stress placed on the entire healthcare system as the disease of obesity plagues all key stakeholders—bariatric patients, health plans, the government, and employers.

How Obesity is Impacting the Healthcare System

How obesity is impacting the healthcare system

Bariatric Patients

The impact of obesity on the bariatric patient is the most evident due to the health implications of a higher body mass index. The disease of obesity directly or indirectly affects every part of the body. When a patient carries extra weight, they are at an increased risk of developing high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and many other diseases. If left untreated, these medical conditions can lead to a heart attack, stroke, cancer, and in some cases, death.

As an individual's weight increases, so do the risks of developing significant medical problems that can shorten a person's life. And also critical is the limited mobility and increased illness burden that reduces the patient's quality of life.

Health Plans

Another way obesity is impacting the healthcare system is the effect is has on the health plans and private insurers. With the increased frequency and intensity of care required by obese individuals comes an added strain on health insurers. Insurance companies now have a higher cost of care in treating the health conditions overweight or obese individuals may experience. This includes covering the cost of care for their chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, sleep apnea, and various cancers that require expensive surgery, devices, and drugs. This results in higher premiums for all members of a plan to offset the costs of treating obesity-related conditions.


The significantly increased cost of care for Medicare and Medicaid patients with obesity and its associated conditions has been and continues to be a significant driver of government spending. This puts pressure on needed funding for non-health-related needs and programs.

Governmental employees are no different from the general population when it comes to obesity. And, the government tends to pay a significantly greater share of their employees' health care costs than private employers. This results in disproportionately higher costs incurred by the government to pay for employees who are obese with associated conditions.


Employers are the primary funder of health care costs for the pre-65 adult population in the US. Employers have to incorporate the cost of their employee health care into the price of their goods and services. Health care costs have been rising significantly higher than the rate of general inflation for the past several decades. The increasing rate of obesity has contributed significantly to the acceleration of employee health costs. This results in higher costs for providing goods and services to the customer. An example of this is that GM and Ford spend more on employee health care than steel for every car they produce.

In addition to the increased cost of doing business and increased prices passed to their customers, employers also suffer significantly from increased absenteeism that individuals with obesity and associated conditions experience. Absenteeism reduces productivity and increases the cost for replacement workers.

Finally, individuals with obesity and related conditions are also much more likely to experience presenteeism. Presenteeism is when an employee shows up for work, but is not feeling well, can't get around easily, and cannot perform up to expected standards. This has a similar effect to absenteeism in that it reduces productivity and requires additional staff to accomplish a given amount of work.

How to Take Action

In general, obesity is impacting the healthcare system as a whole to include the government, the economy, and the patient population. That is why we at Bariatric Centers of America are on a mission to expand access to education and care for overweight and obese patients. We want to cure the disease of obesity in communities across the country. Learn more about our mission and how you can partner with us by visiting our website.

Lou Imbrogno
Louis is a senior-level healthcare executive with over 30 years of experience in healthcare management. He has worked at a senior executive level in large hospitals and health systems and in private practice administration. Most notably, Lou served as CEO of the Clinical Integrated Delivery Division at OhioHealth System. He has extensive experience in Managed Care Contracting, Physician Practice Management, Healthcare Information Technology, and Corporate Finance.
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