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January 24, 2024 · By Dr. Tim Church, MD, MPH, PHD, Wondr Chief Medical Officer

The cost of obesity

rolled up 100 dollar bills

Our Experts Weight loss

Dr. Tim Church, MD, MPH, PhD, Wondr Health Chief Medical Officer, shares Strategies for a healthier workforce and bottom line 

By: Dr. Tim Church, MD, MPH, PhD. 

One-third of U.S. full-time employees have obesity.1 This ends up costing organizations, as medical claims are twice the amount for those with obesity.2 These costs are a hard pill to swallow, especially with more tools available than ever. And now, employers have the added complexity of finding the right strategy for newer, more expensive weight-loss medications. But by understanding the biggest cost drivers behind obesity–both direct and indirect medical costs, the cost of weight-loss medications, and ineffective solutions– employers can simultaneously improve the health of their people and their bottom line. 

Hurdle 1: The impact of obesity on employer health-care costs 

  • Chronic and mental health conditions account for 90% of the nation’s annual health-care spend.3 We know that obesity is an underlying factor for many of these health issues. But it’s not all bad news. With the right tools, such as behavior- change programs or weight-loss medications paired with lifestyle intervention, the path to better health is more attainable than ever 

Solution 1: The new frontier of obesity treatment 

The latest weight-loss medications, especially when amplified by behavior change, are demonstrating never-before-seen results with an impact on a wide range of chronic conditions. In addition to diabetes, heart disease, and mental well-being, there’s emerging science showing benefits to a number of other costly conditions, such as kidney health, liver health, dementia, musculoskeletal (MSK), and cancer.4 

Hurdle 2: Weight-loss medications are expensive 

  • With the rise of obesity rates, demand for GLP-1s has gone through the roof. Employers are weighing the potential benefits of the reduced risk of obesity related disease against the upfront cost of weight-loss medications. 

Solution 2: Rather than excluding the benefit of weight-loss medications, employers can adjust their plan design with the following to provide adequate care for their people while responsibly managing this economic burden. 

  • Offer a full-spectrum of weight-loss medications beyond just GLP-1s 
  • Consider a step-therapy approach 
  • Evaluate eligibility criteria 
  • Require a comprehensive behavior-change program 

Hurdle 3: Your solutions are costing you 

There is a discrepancy between what works in theory and what will engage a population. Only 17% of employees with obesity viewed wellness programs as beneficial, compared with 72% of employers.5 So, what is causing the disconnect? 

  • Too many point solutions 
  • Low engagement 
  • Lack of awareness 
  • Weight stigma and bias 

Solution 3: A comprehensive solution that checks the boxes for clinical, cultural, and financial ROI 

  • Clinical: What is the impact on the health of your population and ultimately, health-care expenses? Look for solutions that target metabolic syndrome, a cluster of risk factors that increase the likelihood of heart disease and diabetes and deliver clinical improvements in weight, hypertension, pre-diabetes, and type 2 diabetes.  
  • Cultural: How can this program improve engagement among your population? Look for solutions that deliver quality of life improvements in factors like physical activity, sleep, confidence, energy, and mood. 
  • Financial: For each pound of excess weight your employees carry, your organization pays $82 in medical and disability costs annually.6 Look for solutions that have a third-party validated analysis of ROI due to decreased health-care claims. 

For a deeper dive into the obesity cost challenge, check out our recent white paper, Tackling the obesity cost challenge.  

Contact us to learn more.   

1. CDC. National Health Interview Survey, 2018.  

2. Hammond RA, Levine R. The economic impact of obesity in the United States.  

3. CDC. Cost of Chronic Disease. 

4. Fruh SM. Obesity: Risk factors, complications, and strategies for sustainable long-term weight management. 

5. Jinnett K, et al. Insights into the role of employers supporting Obesity management in people with obesity. 

6. Ramasamy, A, et al. Direct and Indirect Cost of Obesity Among the Privately Insured in the United States 

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