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» Obesity heavily taxes South Africa's healthcare system

Obesity heavily taxes South Africa's healthcare system

In a study recently accepted by the South African Medical Journal, Dr. Ruopeng An and his colleagues estimate the effects of obesity, smoking, and excessive alcohol intake on health care expenditure and chronic diseases among South Africans on a comprehensive medical scheme by analyzing health survey and medical claims data for a sample of 70 000 South Africans.

Moderately obese individuals with body mass index (BMI) between 30 and 35 averaged R 2 300 or 11% higher medical expenditure than never-smokers with a BMI under 30. This increase is comparable to being a current or past smoker (expenditure increase by R 2 600 or 13%). Severely obese individuals (BMI over 35), however, have increased health care costs by R 4 400 (23% increase). This exceeds the effect of aging 10 years (from 40 to 50 years old (increase of R 3 200). Being overweight or excessive alcohol intake was not significantly associated with medical expenditures. Absolute and relative excess expenditures associated with poor health behaviors increase with age. In the 54-69 age group, estimated additional expenses were R 6 200 for smoking (20% increase over never-smokers with BMI under 30), R 6 600 for moderate obesity (21%), and R 15 800 for severe obesity (51% increase). Overweight or heavy drinking were not statistically significant.

The research team concludes that the increasing prevalence of obesity will tax the health care system more than smoking. The long-term consequences of increased obesity rates on the South African health care system are probably not yet visible.

Citation: Sturm R, An R, Maroba J, Patel D. The effects of obesity, smoking, and excessive alcohol intake on health care expenditure in a comprehensive medical scheme. South African Medical Journal. Accepted