Study: Modifiable Health Risks Linked to More Than $730 Billion in US Health Care Costs


A study published in The Lancet Public Health found that modifiable health risks, such as obesity, high blood pressure, and smoking, were linked to more than $730 billion in health care spending in the United States in 2016.

A study published in The Lancet Public Health found that modifiable health risks, such as obesity, high blood pressure, and smoking, were linked to more than $730 billion in health care spending in the United States in 2016.

Researchers from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) and Vitality Group found that the costs were largely due to 5 risk factors: overweight and obesity, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, poor diet, and smoking. Spending associated with risk factors in 2016 constituted 27% of the $2.7 trillion spent on health care that was included in the study.

Prior to this study, information had not been available on the combined effects of all major risks and the association with health care spending. The new findings fill an important gap in understanding the potential impact of private and public health promotion and prevention initiatives, including programs such as Vitality.

Researchers analyzed estimates of US personal health care spending by condition, age, and sex from IHME's Disease Expenditure Study 2016. They then merged these estimates with population attributable fraction estimates for 84 modifiable risk factors from the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study 2017.

"This study builds on previous work to understand which health conditions contribute the most to increases in health care spending in the US," said Joseph Dieleman, PhD, senior study author, in a press release. "Looking at risks allows us to better understand where these costs start, since unmanaged risk factors often lead to more serious health conditions later in life.”

Dieleman added that although the researchers cannot draw conclusions about possible reductions in spending from this research, the findings illustrate the huge costs tied to poor diets, high blood pressure, smoking, and obesity. Future studies should focus on preventing and managing these key risks before they turn into costly diseases, according to the press release.

The study also found that controllable, treatable risks were strongly related to costly US medical conditions, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and chronic respiratory diseases. Further, costs were driven largely by 5 modifiable risk factors: overweight and obesity ($238.5 billion), high blood pressure ($179.9 billion), high fasting plasma glucose ($171.9 billion), dietary risks ($143.6 billion), and tobacco smoke ($130.0 billion).

The researchers found that health care spending increases significantly with age, with the greatest proportion of risk-attributable spending associated with those 65 years of age and older.

The findings suggest that policymakers, actuaries, consultants, and health plan administrators’ data support the need to focus public and private health programs on initiatives with the greatest potential to improve health and reduce health care costs. Additionally, favorable outcomes have been achieved through programs such as smoking cessation, which have reduced lung cancer and its treatment costs, as well as weight reduction.


Modifiable health risks linked to more than $730 billion in US health care costs. EurekAlert! Published September 30, 2020. Accessed September 30, 2020.

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