Atlanta — The extra Medicare cost associated with overweight elderly people could place a significant financial burden on tax payers, costing up to hundreds of billions of dollars across the entire current Medicare population, according to a study in the June 2008 issue of Health Services Research.

The article's findings show that treating the health needs of an overweight or obese elderly person will cost Medicare 6 percent to 17 percent more over a lifetime than treating an elderly person with a healthy weight. The authors used body mass index and looked at total costs from Medicare alone for individuals covered from age 65 until death. The extra demands made on the health care system by overweight and obese elderly amounts to Medicare spending on average an extra $15,000 on overweight elderly individuals and an extra $26,000 on obese individuals.

“Our research provides valuable information for why the public and health policy makers need to pay attention to the financial burden of health care for overweight Americans besides its being just a health issue,” Professor Zhou Yang at Emory University says. “More aggressive public health campaigns or early behavioral or policy intervention to stop the obesity epidemic could be cost-effective as well as otherwise beneficial for society.”

Researchers used data from the longitudinal Medicare Current Beneficiary Survey from 1992 to 2001.