Access and Use of Medical Care among Obese Persons


  • Kevin R. Fontaine,

    Corresponding author
    1. Division of Gerontology, Department of Medicine, University of Maryland School of Medicine, and Geriatric Research Education and Clinical Center (GRECC), Baltimore VA Medical Center, Baltimore, Maryland
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  • Susan J. Bartlett

    1. Division of Rheumatology and Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland
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The prevalence of obesity and severe obesity is growing rapidly, along with obesity-related comorbidities and mortality. Given the increased health risks associated with obesity, it is vital that obese persons have adequate access to, and make consistent use of, medical care services. Assuming obese persons have access to medical care that is comparable to non-obese persons, one would expect to observe greater use of medical services among obese persons. In this article we briefly review empirical evidence of the access to and use of medical care among obese persons. Although certain subgroups that tend to have disproportionately high prevalences of obesity (i.e., low socioeconomic status, minority groups) have reduced access to care, no studies have specifically examined whether or not obese persons have the same access to health care as do their lean counterparts. With respect to use of health care services, however, obesity has been consistently linked with greater rates of utilization and increased health care expenditures. Both the increased use and cost appear to be largely a function of treating obesity-associated comorbidities such as diabetes and hypertension. We conclude that, although it is clear that obesity is associated with both greater use and cost of medical care, the relationship between obesity and access to medical care has not been determined.