Objectives: To estimate the healthcare costs of sarcopenia in the United States and to examine the effect that a reduced sarcopenia prevalence would have on healthcare expenditures.
Design: Cross-sectional surveys.
Setting: Nationally representative surveys using data from the U.S. Census, Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, and National Medical Care and Utilization Expenditure Survey.
Participants: Representative samples of U.S. adults aged 60 and older.
Measurements: The healthcare costs of sarcopenia were estimated based on the effect of sarcopenia on increasing physical disability risk in older persons. In the first step, the healthcare cost of disability in older Americans was estimated from national surveys. In the second step, the proportion of the disability cost due to sarcopenia (population-attributable risk) was calculated to determine the healthcare costs of sarcopenia. These calculations relied upon previously published relative risk values for disability in sarcopenic individuals and sarcopenia prevalence rates in the older population.
Results: The estimated direct healthcare cost attributable to sarcopenia in the United States in 2000 was $18.5 billion ($10.8 billion in men, $7.7 billion in women), which represented about 1.5% of total healthcare expenditures for that year. A sensitivity analysis indicated that the costs could be as low as $11.8 billion and as high as $26.2 billion. The excess healthcare expenditures were $860 for every sarcopenic man and $933 for every sarcopenic woman. A 10% reduction in sarcopenia prevalence would result in savings of $1.1 billion (dollars adjusted to 2000 rate) per year in U.S. healthcare costs.
Conclusion: Sarcopenia imposes a significant but modifiable economic burden on government-reimbursed healthcare services in the United States. Because the number of older Americans is increasing, the economic costs of sarcopenia will escalate unless effective public health campaigns aimed at reducing the occurrence of sarcopenia are implemented.