116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Obesity and its related illnesses are costing Iowans big time.
That's according to a new report issued Tuesday by Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield, the state's largest insurer. The Health of Iowans report found that obesity is a common factor that contributes to the most costly conditions among Wellmark's customers in Iowa.
The average cost to treat pancreatic cancer, one of the conditions to which obesity can be a contributing factor, for example, can be about $188,000. The cost for a knee replacement averages about $31,000.
'Here is the underlying issue — obesity is a direct link to 50 chronic conditions,' said Becky Wampler, Wellmark's director of health care sustainability and based in Des Moines. 'Wellmark has found that people with one, two or three chronic conditions account for 58 percent of health care dollars paid out.'
Wampler added that there's a great deal of focus on rising health care costs, but to do that there needs to be a better understanding of health care expenditures.
'If we can unravel the impact of obesity, we can unravel the amount of chronic conditions,' she said.
Lifestyle and behavior accounts for about 70 percent of a person's health, Wampler said. Over the years, Iowa and the nation have become more sedentary and less healthy — it can be more convenient to grab fast-food, people sit all day at work in front of a computer and schools serve processed food.
'The obesity link was not surprising,' she said.
Obesity is defined as an excessive accumulation of fat in body that in turn can affect a person's health.
The report was compiled with national public health statistics and Wellmark's own data.
Obesity rates have drastically increased over the past 25 years across Iowa and the nation. In 1988, 14 percent of adults in Iowa were obese, but that rate grew to 30.9 percent in 2014.
What's more, a September report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Trust for America's Health ranked Iowa's adult obesity rate the 12th worst in the nation.
Here is a list of the top-five most costly health care conditions, according to Wellmark's report:
1. Cancer — Last year, 17,140 new cancer cases were diagnosed in Iowa, according to the American Cancer Society. Obesity is associated with increased risk of several types of cancers, including esophageal, pancreatic, colon and rectum, breast, endometrial, kidney, thyroid and gallbladder.
There are variances in cost, depending on the type of cancer and the severity. But regardless, treating cancer is expensive. The average cost to treat pancreatic cancer is $187,544.
2. Bone and joint disorders — Excess weight can put added pressure on joints and bones. The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association reports the average cost for a knee replacement is $31,124 and hip replacement is $30,124.
3. Heart Conditions — Even a few extra pounds can be hard on the heart. That's because your heart needs to pump harder to supply blood to all of the body's cells, and it can suffer from the increased workload.
This can lead to heart conditions such as abnormal heart rhythm, heart attack or heart failure. The national average for bypass surgery hovers around $50,000.
4. Digestive disorders — Research shows that people who are obese may have more digestive problems and obesity also can be a contributing factor for those with acid-related disorders.
Not all digestive disorders are a result of lifestyle — for example, some Crohn's disease conditions can be hereditary. Drugs used to treat Crohn's disease and other gastrointestinal conditions can cost upward of $20,000 annually.
5. Back pain — Recent studies have shown that sitting for long periods of time can be deadly — sedentary activities such as driving, using the computer or watching TV take up most of a person's day and can put strain on a person's back.
The average cost for a herniated disc surgery is $13,000.