Study suggests obesity has lesser financial impact on African-Americans

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The study published in the January 2005 issue of the American Journal of Public Health is among the first to examine how patient demographic factors affect the relationship between body mass index (BMI) and health-care costs.

“From the perspective of the health-care system, obesity may be less costly among African-Americans than among whites,” says Christina Wee, MD, MPH, of BIDMC’s Division of General Medicine and Primary Care and an assistant professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.

Wee hypothesizes that the lower cost impact could result from biological differences, an already-higher mortality rate among African-Americans because of competing health risk, or disparities in health care that primarily affect black Americans.

The study found obese adults had significantly higher medication and office visit spending than people with lower BMIs.

The study also looked at the relationship between obesity and health-care spending in different groups. “It would also appear the costs associated with obesity become more pronounced as you get older, particularly after age 55,” says Wee.

The strongest associations between obesity and spending were found among whites and older adults, while BMI was not associated with health-care spending among black adults and people under the age of 35.