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Obesity Leads To More Hospital Admissions

Armen Hareyan's picture

Obese adults are admitted to the hospital more frequently and for more days than adults who are normal weight, finds a new study that looks at how being obese leads to a need for more health care services.

The study, which appears in the December issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, also finds that how long an adult has been obese has a bearing on the longer hospital stays.

"Though there doesn't seem to be any discrete cutoff point for what is 'too long,' the basic story is that the longer a person has been obese, the more hospital resources they will need," said lead study author Markus Schafer. "Somewhat surprisingly, we found that the length of time a person's been obese makes a much bigger impact than how severe the obesity actually is."

Schafer, a sociologist at the Center on Aging and the Life Course at Purdue University, and a colleague evaluated 4,574 adults, ages 41 and older, who took part in a national survey in three waves over 20 years, beginning in 1971. In the first wave, researchers measured participants' body mass index (BMI) and classified those having a BMI of 30 and above as obese. In later waves, researchers asked participants about their weight at ages 25, 40 and 65, and about any hospitalizations since the last interview.

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On average, obese adults had about 3.22 hospital stays in a 20-year period compared with 2.47 stays for the normal-weight adults, Schafer said. Length of hospital stays averaged 10.96 days for obese adults compared with 9.4 days for those of normal weight.

Higher prevalence of conditions such as hypertension was a major reason why obese adults had more hospitalizations.

"We found that it was especially problematic when subjects had been obese since young adulthood and carried excess weight with them into middle and late adulthood," Schafer said. "So it seems that early adulthood is a crucial time for addressing weight problems, and will quite likely pay dividends in reducing healthcare consumption when these adults are in their 50s, 60s, 70s and even 80s."

Susan Curry, Ph.D., director of the Health Research and Policy Centers at the University of Illinois at Chicago, who is familiar with the study, agreed that preventing obesity throughout adulthood is crucial.

"If you look closely at their models, being obese at age 25 did not have a significant association with hospitalization and yet chronic obesity did," she said. "This suggests that many individuals become obese after age 25, hence the need to focus on obesity prevention in health care and in public health strategies."