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Informing Policy. Advancing Health.

1.637 Billion Reasons Why Obesity Matters to Colorado

1.637 Billion Reasons Why Obesity Matters to Colorado

January 5, 2012

1.637 billion is a really big number. It’s twice as big as the number of Facebook users worldwide, and that many people would fill every major sports arena in Denver approximately 10,000 times. 1.637 billion dollars would buy you 7,000 new houses, 20 Royal Weddings, five iPads for every resident of Denver, or 14,035 metric tons of original Pinkberry yogurt. 1

1.637 billion is also the number of dollars Colorado spent on obesity in 2009, according to a new study published this month in the journal Obesity. A team of researchers analyzed medical costs in all 50 states, and then estimated the portion of those costs that were due to obesity, i.e., Americans with a body mass index greater than 30.

The researchers found that in 2009, Colorado spent $1.637 billion treating diseases and conditions related to obesity. In other words, if all obese Coloradans were of normal weight, we would see our annual medical expenditures drop by $1.637 billion.

You may remember an earlier estimate of $874 million from a similar research team. While a change in methodology means these numbers can’t be directly compared, it’s safe to say that rising obesity rates are having a big impact on Colorado’s health costs.  The 2010 Colorado Health Report Card found that 19 percent of Colorado adults are obese, up from 14 percent in 2000. That number is expected to be even higher in the 2011 Report Card.

Interestingly, the researchers also analyzed the proportion of Medicare and Medicaid costs that were attributable to obesity. In Colorado, they found that approximately 7% of Medicare costs and 16% of Medicaid costs were attributable to obesity. In an era in which rapidly escalating health costs are pressuring Colorado’s state budget, studies like this one help us understand some of those cost drivers—and potentially what can be done about it.

So, what is there to be done? Across the state, dozens of organizations are working on this very issue.  One of my favorite examples is LiveWell Colorado’s Culture Change campaign. LiveWell identified one of the biggest barriers in reducing obesity: People rarely think they’re obese. They think that their neighbors are obese, or that their relatives are obese, but less often do they think they are obese. In case you haven’t seen the video, it’s definitely worth watching:


LiveWell’s website also includes a handy “Gut Check” calculator to help you determine if you’re at a healthy weight. Try it – you might be surprised!