The study published in the January 2005 issue of the Journal of American Public Health is among the first to examine how patient demographic factors affect the relationship between body mass index (BMI) and health care costs.
Body mass index is calculated by dividing a person's weight in kilograms by the square of height in meters. People with readings of 18 are considered to be of normal weight, with 25 the threshold for being considered overweight and 30 the threshold for being considered obese.
"From the perspective of the healthcare system, obesity may be less costly among African-Americans than among whites. In white Americans, healthcare spending was dramatically higher for those who were obese than for those in the recommended weight range, but in Africans Americans, higher body weight was not significantly associated with higher overall healthcare spending" says Christina Wee, MD, MPH, of BIDMC's Division of General Medicine and Primary Care and an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.
The study also found no significant relationship between body weight and healthcare spending among Hispanics.
Wee says further study is needed, but hypothesizes that the lower cost impact could result from one or a combination of factors, including biological differences, an already higher mortality rate among African-Americans because of competing health risk, or disparities in health care that primarily affect black Americans.
The study found obese adults had significantly higher medication and office visit spending than people with lower BMIs. Mean annual per person spending for healthcare overall was $3,610 for white
Contact: Jerry Berger
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center