Direct medical cost of overweight and obesity in the USA: a quantitative systematic review


  • An earlier version of these results was presented as an oral abstract at the 2006 meeting of the Obesity Society (Boston, USA) and at the 2009 meeting of the International Health Economics Association (Beijing, China).

AG Tsai, Mail Stop C-263, 4455 E. 12th Avenue, Denver, CO 80220, USA. E-mail:


To estimate per-person and aggregate direct medical costs of overweight and obesity and to examine the effect of study design factors. PubMed (1968–2009), EconLit (1969–2009) and Business Source Premier (1995–2009) were searched for original studies. Results were standardized to compute the incremental cost per overweight person and per obese person, and to compute the national aggregate cost. A total of 33 US studies met review criteria. Among the four highest-quality studies, the 2008 per-person direct medical cost of overweight was $266 and of obesity was $1723. The aggregate national cost of overweight and obesity combined was $113.9 billion. Study design factors that affected cost estimates included use of national samples vs. more selected populations, age groups examined, inclusion of all medical costs vs. obesity-related costs only, and body mass index cut-offs for defining overweight and obesity. Depending on the source of total national healthcare expenditures used, the direct medical cost of overweight and obesity combined is approximately 5.0% to 10% of US healthcare spending. Future studies should include nationally representative samples, evaluate adults of all ages, report all medical costs and use standard body mass index cut-offs.