Obesity in Aging Population Taxes Medicare System

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2006
This post was written by Melanie Matthews

As in other populations, obesity rates and related healthcare costs are increasing at a fast rate in the Medicare population, according to a new study by researchers at Emory University in Atlanta and published online at Health Affairs.

The researchers found that 22.5 percent of Medicare enrollees were considered obese in 2002, up from 11.7 percent in 1987. More alarming, however, is that spending on medical care for obese Medicare patients was 9.4 percent of the federal government program’s budget in 1987 but 24.8 percent by 2002, according to the analysis.

Preliminary results of a July 2006 survey conducted by the Healthcare Intelligence Network on the impact of aging boomers on the healthcare system found that nearly 50 percent of healthcare organizations rate obesity as the single greatest health issue facing the baby boomer population.

During Maximizing the Results of Your Disease Management Programs Through Community-Based Resources, a June 21 audio conference, Judy Szilagyi-Neary, clinical care manager at Ovations, a United Healthcare company, outlined how her organization has established partnerships with gyms and some community exercise programs to ensure the physical activity programs are available to its members. Ovations also participates in state- or city-wide initiatives to promote physical activity, such as health fairs and educational programs.

While increasing obesity rates are alarming at all age groups, an obese elderly population is, in my mind, the most challenging to address. A concerted effort will be needed among not only providers and insurers, but also caregivers to change what in some cases might be life-long habits of poor diet and inactivity. With the comorbidities that are associated with obesity in general combined with those associated with obesity in the elderly, it is easy to see why costs related to obesity have increased at the levels reported by the Emory researchers. With efforts like those at Ovations, we could begin to reverse these statistics.

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