More than a quarter healthcare expenses linked to modifiable risk factors

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Modifiable health risks, such as obesity, high blood pressure, and smoking, were linked to over $730 billion in healthcare spending in the United States in 2016, according to a new study published in The Lancet Public Health.

Researchers from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), an independent global health research center at the University of Washington School of Medicine, found that the costs were largely due to five risk factors: overweight and obesity, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, poor diet, and smoking.

Spending associated with risk factors in 2016 constituted 27 percent of the $2.7 trillion spent on healthcare that was included in the study. Additionally, controllable and treatable risk factors were strongly related to costly U.S. medical conditions, including cardiovascular disease, cancers, diabetes, and chronic respiratory diseases. Healthcare spending increases significantly with age, with the greatest proportion of risk-attributable spending associated with those aged 65 years and older, 44.8 percent, according to the study.

Prior to this study, information had not been available on the combined effects of all major risks and the association with healthcare spending. The new findings fill a gap in understanding the potential impact of private and public health promotion and prevention initiatives, the researchers said.