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Published: Tuesday, 10/19/2010

Fatter nation

Obesity is straining the nation's health-care system more than previously believed, according to a new study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization.

Researchers concluded that 16.5 percent of U.S. medical costs can be blamed on obesity, higher than the 9.1 percent figure in an influential study last year. That means the nation spends $168 billion a year (in 2005 dollars) treating people for a long list of illnesses associated with having a Body Mass Index of 30 or higher.

The earlier study said obesity adds $1,429 to a person's annual medical costs. The new study says the added cost is $2,826. The researchers made adjustments aimed at more accurately estimating the weight of those in the study, because people underreport their weight.

They also tried to show more accurately that excess weight - not some other factor - was responsible for the higher medical costs.

The price tag is important not just because it is attention-grabbing and reinforces the extent of the nation's weight problem. It also should be influential in determining which treatment and prevention programs are cost-effective - proving again that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

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