The study, published in the Journal of Health and Social Behaviour, accompanies the mountain of evidence linking obesity to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other illnesses.
Ken Ferraro, PhD, a sociologist at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana led the study, along with graduate student Markus Schafer. They examined twenty years of personal health information from 1971-1992, on more than 4,500 people aged 44-71 who had been surveyed while in hospital. Their primary question was how hospitalisations are affected by obesity, and how living longer with obesity affects people.
They found that on average, obese people spent 1.5 days longer in hospital than those of normal weight. The results were maintained even when adjusted for advancing age. Primary reasons for the extended stay are that 46% of obese adults have high blood pressure, and more obese people suffer concurrent diseases and their complications. The study also found that the longer the person has been obese, the longer their potential hospital stay.
"Obese adults who have been overweight since childhood and carried extra weight into adulthood pay the highest price for being heavy," notes Ferraro. "As more young people become obese, we may anticipate accumulated health problems by the time they are 40. If they are going to be obese for 30, 40 or 50 years, then the health-care costs associated with their adult medical needs will skyrocket."
A related study by Ferraro examined 1,023 patients who were hospitalised but their hospitalisation was considered "avoidable". The results showed that obese people were nearly twice as likely to be hospitalised as people of normal weight.
Both studies raise other interesting questions, such as whether hospitals have effective ways of dealing with obesity and obese patients. It is hoped that these results will inspire primary care providers to be sensitive to the specific needs of obese patients, thus reducing avoidable hospitalisations as well as the length of hospital stays.