Objective: This study investigated differences in the use of health care services and associated costs between obese and nonobese patients.
Research methods and procedures: New adult patients (N = 509) were randomly assigned to primary care physicians at a university medical center. Their use of medical services and related charges was monitored for 1 year. Data collected included sociodemographics, self-reported health status using the Medical Outcomes Study Short Form-36, evaluation for depression using the Beck Depression Index, and measured height and weight to calculate BMI.
Results: Obese patients included a significantly higher percentage of women and had higher mean age, lower mean education, lower mean health status, and higher mean Beck Depression Index scores. Obese patients had a significantly higher mean number of visits to both primary care (p = 0.0005) and specialty care clinics (p = 0.0006), and a higher mean number of diagnostic services (p < 0.0001). Obese patients also had significantly higher primary care (p = 0.0058), specialty clinic (p = 0.0062), emergency department (p = 0.0484), hospitalization (p = 0.0485), diagnostic services (p = 0.0021), and total charges (p = 0.0033). Controlling for health status, depression, age, education, income, and sex, obesity was significantly related to the use of primary care (p = 0.0364) and diagnostic services (p = 0.0075). There was no statistically significant relationship between obesity and medical expenditures in any of the five categories or for total charges.
Discussion: Obesity is a chronic condition requiring long-term management, with an emphasis on prevention. If this critical health issue is not appropriately addressed, the prevalence of obesity and obesity-related diseases will continue to grow, resulting in escalating use of health care services.