News & Trends

WBGH's launch of the Institute on the Costs and Health Effects of Obesity; Commonwealth Fund's survey on how medical errors originate; and the annual cost of diabetes





To battle the growing epidemic of obesity in the U.S., the Washington Business Group on Health is launching the Institute on the Costs and Health Effects of Obesity. The Institute will strive to identify effective solutions that WBGH's corporate members can utilize to help their employees choose healthier lifestyles and avoid obesity and its related diseases.

A recent study published on the website of the journal Health Affairs and funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that obesity and overweight conditions cost the country $93 billion annually. In fact, the average increase in annual costs associated with obesity in the adult population is $732 per person. Quickly catching up to those of smoking, annual spending connected to being overweight or obese makes up 9 percent of U.S. expenditures on medical care.

Obesity has become a worldwide epidemic affecting 250 million adults, according to Mikael Fogelholm, MD, chair of the recent 12th European Congress on Obesity, but the worst is yet to come. Speaking in Helsinki, Fogelholm noted that prevalence among adolescents has increased more rapidly than among the middle-aged population, "which doesn't make the future look very promising."

Benefit costs for civilians increased 6.1 percent for the first quarter of 2003, a 2.2 point increase from the previous quarter, reveals the latest Employment Cost Index from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This increase dwarfs the 1 percent gain in wages and salaries for civilian workers in the same period.


Roughly one fourth of patients with health problems were involved in a medication or medical error within the previous two years, revealed a recent Commonwealth Fund survey. Lack of care coordination was a major factor. One in five sick adults reported being sent for duplicate tests by different health professionals, while nearly 60 percent had to repeat their health history to multiple professionals. One quarter of respondents said their medical records didn't make it to the doctor's office prior to their appointment.

Communication was a problem in both directions: 31 percent of patients left their doctor without having important questions answered, 51 percent were never told by their doctor about the emotional burden of their condition, and nearly one-fifth stopped taking prescription medication without their doctor's approval due to side effects.

No surprise that cost was also a sticking point. Because of expenses, one in three didn't fill a prescription, one in four didn't get medical attention, and one-fourth didn't receive a recommended test, treatment or follow-up. Sixteen percent of U.S. adults with health problems skipped doses of their medication in order to make it last longer.

Requests for critical incident counseling increased nearly 25 percent in the first quarter of 2003 (compared to the same period in 2002), according to a new ComPsych report. Of those critical incidence stress debriefings, 27 percent involved worker anxiety and termination, 35 percent were robbery related, and 38 percent were tied to the death of an employee.



Diabetes cost the U.S. an estimated $132 billion in direct medical and indirect expenditures last year, according to a new study by the American Diabetes Association. That compares with the last ADA estimate of $98 billion in 1997. Increased prevalence and the rising cost of care over the past five years outweighed a much more conservative calculation of disability costs than in the earlier study.

Direct medical expenditures in 2002 accounted for $92 billion, which includes diabetes care, chronic complications caused by diabetes and a prevalence of general medical conditions. The $40 billion in indirect expenses were related to lost workdays, restricted activity, early deaths and permanent disability from diabetes.

Health care spending was more than double for people with diabetes, as compared to those without the disease. To put a hard number on it, diabetes costs the U.S. economy $92 billion in higher health care costs. Better access to preventive care and more intensive disease management could greatly improve the quality of life for diabetics, while reducing national expenditures.

Nearly 9 out of 10 workers with depression have at least one concurrent physical symptom, says the Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy. What's more, 43 percent of them have six or more physical symptoms including shoulder pain or backaches. These symptoms are estimated to cost companies nearly $40 billion a year due to absenteeism and decreased productivity.


News & Trends.

Business and Health

Jun. 1, 2003;21.