WASHINGTON (AP) - Obese Americans spend more for health care and medications than smokers, largely because the extra weight causes the same jump in chronic health problems as does 20 years of aging, says a new study.
While tobacco is still the nation's chief cause of preventable deaths, the surgeon general warned in December that obesity was running a close second.
For a more precise look at the resulting costs, Rand Corp. economist Roland Sturm used data from two national health surveys to estimate inpatient and outpatient health services by different groups of people.
Tobacco may have a higher death toll, largely because lung cancer can kill more quickly than some common obesity-linked diseases, but obesity was worse when it came to long-term health problems, he reports Tuesday in the journal Health Affairs.
Being obese increases health care costs 36 percent and medication costs 77 percent, while smoking increases those costs 21 percent and 30 percent, respectively.
Obesity contributed to a decline in quality of life at nearly four times the rate of smoking or alcohol abuse, Sturm reported.
Only a two-decade jump to middle age -- going from age 30 to 50 -- brought similar health effects and costs, he said.