Kenneth E. Thorpe, chairman of the Department of Health Policy and Management at Emory's Rollins School of Public Health in Atlanta, and colleagues analyzed data from the National Medical Expenditure Survey and the Medical Expenditure Panel Surveys from 1987-2009.
The researchers analyzed treated disease prevalence, spending per treated case, obesity and increased treatment intensity played in the increase in healthcare spending.
The examined surveys included detailed information on self-reported medical conditions, monthly markers of health insurance coverage, patients' demographic characteristics, spending, respondent data, medical information and use of service.
The study, published in Health Affairs, found 51 percent of the rise in healthcare spending among U.S. adults was associated with rising rates of treated disease prevalence -- 77 percent in the case of Medicare spending, while 39 percent of that rise was associated with higher spending per treated case.
The doubling of obesity since 1987 contributed to 10.4 percent of the overall rise in spending.
"The current findings strongly suggest that most of the recent discussion about ways to control increases in spending, particularly among Medicare beneficiaries, may be focused on the wrong set of issues," Thorpe said.