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 also finds that
duration of obesity—how long an adult has been obese—has a direct impact on
length of hospitalization.
“Though there doesn’t seem to be any discrete
cutoff point for what is ‘too long’ to be obese, the basic story is that the
longer a person has been obese, the more hospital resources they will need,”
said lead study author and sociologist Markus Schafer. “A somewhat surprising
result in our study was the fact that the length of time a person has been obese
makes a much bigger impact than how severe the obesity actually is.”
study appears in the December issue of the Journal of Health and Social
Behavior, a peer-reviewed scientific publication of the American
Schafer, a medical 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. At later waves, participants were asked about their weight at
ages 25, 40, and 65 and about any hospital admissions they had had since the
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,
representing a 30-percent greater likelihood of hospitalization. Length of
hospital stays averaged 10.96 days for obese adults compared with 9.4 days for
those of normal weight.
The study found that higher disease prevalence
was a major reason why obese adults had more hospitalizations. For example,
whereas 21 percent of normal-weight participants had hypertension, 46 percent of
the obese adults suffered from the condition, which helped explain the
association between BMI and hospital admission.
“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.”
PhD, 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 through 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.”
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The Journal of Health and Social
is the quarterly journal of the American Sociological Association.
Contact Sujata Sinha, Media Relations Officer at (202) 247-9871or
Schafer, M. H., and K. F. Ferraro. 2007. Obesity and
hospitalization over the adult life course: Does duration of exposure increase
use? Journal of Health and Social Behavior
Interviews: Markus Schafer at firstname.lastname@example.org