March 24 (UPI) -- Adults with obesity incur $1,861 more in healthcare costs annually than those who maintain a healthy weight, according to an analysis published Wednesday by the journal PLOS ONE.
Those with severe obesity experience more than $3,000 in additional healthcare costs annually, while children garner $116 more, on average, each year compared to people who have a healthy body weight, the data showed.
Adult obesity is associated with an estimated $170 billion in excess healthcare costs in the United States each year, the researchers said.
"Obesity is associated with high medical costs, with especially high costs for severe obesity [in] older adults," study co-author Zachary J. Ward told UPI in an email.
"This is particularly concerning as severe obesity is rising rapidly in the United States," said Ward, a researcher at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston.
More than 40% of adults in the United States meet the criteria for obesity, which is having a body mass index -- a measure of weight based on height -- of 30 or more, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Nearly 10% of adults nationally meet the criteria for severe obesity, the agency estimates.
Meanwhile, roughly one in five children in the United States is considered obese, the CDC says.
Being obese is linked with an increased risk for a number of health problems, including heart disease and diabetes, according to the agency.
For this study, Ward and his colleagues analyzed data on more than 175,000 people collected from a survey on healthcare costs over a six-year period.
Among adult participants who met the criteria for obesity, healthcare costs increased an average of $253 annually for every BMI increase of one unit, the data showed.
Costs were higher for adult women and increased with age and BMI for both men and women, as adults age 60 to 70 with obesity had the highest charges.
The lowest healthcare costs among participants were associated with a BMI of 20.5 for women and 23.5 for men, which are considered healthy.
Obesity was associated with an overall increase in annual healthcare costs of $1,861 per adult and $116 per child, while severe adult obesity was linked to $3,097 in excess annual costs per person.
The findings highlight the need to promote the importance of maintaining a healthy weight for people of all ages and could help inform public health policies and programs to address obesity, the researchers said.
"The good news is that there are policies that work, but more still needs to be done, especially for adults, who contribute the most to obesity-related healthcare costs," Ward said.
"We generally find that diet- and nutrition-focused obesity prevention efforts are cost-effective interventions that improve obesity prevalence and population health," he said.