Study: Obesity in Minn. could cost $3.7 billion by 2020

If the state's obesity rate continues to rise at current levels a new report predicts that Minnesotans will pay an addition $3.7 billion a year in health care costs by 2020.

The study was issued by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota and the Minnesota Department of Health. It compared the difference in cost between two obesity scenarios. In the first scenario Minnesota's rate stabilizes. In the other scenario the obesity rate continues to grow at its current rapid pace.

Blue Cross Vice President Marc Manley said the cost difference is striking.

"I mean this is a conservative estimate. This is only looking at adult health care costs. It doesn't include some other costs like nursing home care. So this is unfortunately kind of a minimum increase," said Manley.

The estimate also doesn't include increased costs related to treatment. Manley said bariatric surgery, known as stomach-stapling, may become more common than it is now. Or there might be other expensive advances in treating obesity-related conditions such as heart disease and cancer.

Currently it costs 15 to 20 percent more to care for obese patients. But Manley said that care will be much more expensive 12 years from now.

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"It'll be 60 percent higher than the cost of caring for a person who has a healthy weight. So we will just be paying for more and more care for diseases caused by obesity like diabetes and heart disease and also just paying more for the medical treatment of obesity," said Manley.

Manly says Minnesota can prevent some of the extra costs related to obesity by making it easier for people to live healthier lives.

He said individuals should do what they can to manage their weight. But said employers could also offer better food choices in meetings and employee cafeterias. And he said communities could come up with more effective neighbor designs so residents could exercise more.

"Even a simple matter of just being more physically active is influenced by how we build our communities, what kind of laws we have, how we paint cross walks and other features to keep people safe as they move around," said Manley.

Manley said if the state does nothing, by the year 2020 less than a quarter of the population, approximately 23 percent, will be at a healthy weight.