July 21st, 2010
09:18 AM ET

Obese patients need larger, more costly supplies

Could the obesity epidemic be leading to a boom in business for U.S. specialty medical suppliers?

A June 2010 survey from the medical supply contractor, Novation, which includes hospitals in the University HealthSystem Consortium and VHA member health care organizations, found that a majority of the facilities had purchased at least one type of bariatric equipment including lifts, beds, stretchers or transfer devices to accommodate the rise in morbidly obese patients, people with a body mass index of 40 or greater. Nearly 80 percent of the hospitals also reported using special wheelchairs, walkers and blood pressure cuffs for larger patients. The supplies, though needed, are also very costly.

"The cost of these supplies is significantly more compared to standard supplies with bariatric beds costing more than $20,000 more, and bariatric wheelchairs costing almost seven times as much," the researchers explain.

Millennium Research Group, a Canada-based medical analysis group, estimates that U.S. hospitals will spend more than $1.2 billion by the end of 2011, purchasing supplies to accommodate the obese patients.

“It’s definitely a growing market," says Tiffanie Demone, a senior analyst with MRG. She says their analysis indicates that a standard hospital table now accommodates patients up to 600-pounds, and runs about $30,000 USD. The price of a bariatric sized table, for patients weighing up to 1,000 pounds, jumps to just under $45,000 USD, she says.

“There’s definitely a necessity based on the rising obesity levels in the U.S. That alone is fairly substantial.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 34 percent of adults age 20 and older are obese, and the American Society of Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery estimates that around 220,000 obese Americans underwent bariatric surgery– a  common type of weight-loss surgery–  in 2009.

In a report on Medical Care for Obese Patients, the NIH encourages hospitals to "create an accessible and comfortable environment" for morbidly obese patients who may often avoid preventive care. This concern remains a priority for public health officials, however, the costs remain equally concerning for many hospitals and insurance companies.

In the Novation survey, for example, 80 percent of the hospitals indicated that purchasing or renting special beds accounted for the greatest spending increase at their facility. A 2009 study by the CDC and the non-profit research group, RTI International, found the direct and indirect costs of obesity could be as high as $147 billion annually. [Read more: Fact Check – The Cost of Obesity]

soundoff (181 Responses)
  1. Mike

    I feel like fat people unfairly get a lot of flak because they are a physical embodiment of America's excess. When you hear that 100,000,000 Americans are overweight or obese, dosen't that set off alarm bells? There's something seriously perverse in this country, and I really do feel that the quality of our food is one of the sources of this problem.

    Think about how attached we are to name brand foods, and how much we rely on stockholders and Boards of Trustees to decide for us what we eat; every major food corporation has them, and every major food corporation in the end answers only to them and NOT the people they are feeding.

    It's killing us in a slow and expensive manner...

    July 21, 2010 at 23:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Marine5484

    why in gods green earth do people who choose to become the way they are and get special treatment and then i have to help foot the bill. either get in shape and live a longer healthier life or continue what your doing and die off quickly but im not going to help you and i please for the love of god if i hear one person say the food companies made me this way or some other excuse i will find you and slap your fat @$$ so hard the crisco coming out of you will feed 500 kids in Africa

    July 22, 2010 at 00:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Tim

    America has to be the unhealthiest nation in the western world. I mean what's with all these hormonal imbalances and thyroid conditions people say cause them to gain weight? How come I don't see this in Europe? Upon landing in America...I see in FIVE MINUTES more fat people than in 2 weeks in Europe. What a bunch of sick people. What is causing all of this?

    July 22, 2010 at 00:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Tim

    Most of the people in America will not or are not able to walk 75 steps in any one direction in a day. And that my friends....is the end of us.

    July 22, 2010 at 00:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. 8404Corpsman

    Disgusting. Absolutely disgusting. Our culture enables its citizens to become grossly overweight by forcefeeding advertisements of fast food and unhealthy lifestyles, and at the same time racks up profit. Now when the citizens are all good and fat they require excess healthcare, racking up more profits at our expense. Corporatism shows mercy to none.

    July 22, 2010 at 01:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Mxgame

    No offense to the overweight reading these, but hyperthyroidism is not a valid excuse for the severe obesity many who have the condition say. First, it's not a magical condition, it must abide by the laws of nature and physics. It takes 3500 calories to make a pound of fat. Those 3500 calories per pound of fat do not simply appear out of thin air, they have to be consumed by the individual. So while having problems with your thyroid may significantly reduce your metabolism and the number of calories you burn daily, it does not affect the number of calories you bring into your system over your daily caloric use. Simply put, you only have yourself to blame.

    The sooner you realize that, the sooner you can get past that mental blockade, and do something about your caloric intake. My brother and sister are both morbidly obese and I was on my way to that same path. It took someone to tell me that I was fat because I chose to be fat to really do something about it. The people who come on here and say they have tried everything are doing only themselves a diservice. Stop decieving yourself and write down every calorie you consume during the day. Then use an online program to chart calories you are using from a normal day. I bear no ill will to overweight individuals. It can be tough to stop eating as I know from personal experience but it is very possible.

    July 22, 2010 at 10:01 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Micki

      You are right! I'm so tired of excuses like : "I have big bones.My whole family does actually.", or "My genes are the reason".
      After the birth of my son I went in 9 months back to my size before the pregnancy.But the year after I put that weight (14kg) back on. Now I'm pregnant again and the difference between the both :already 20 kg!!! So I'm putting a LOT of effort not to cook and eat unhealthy stuff and to do some exercise every day. My weight gain came because I was lazy, period. Putting on over 50 kg and more has nothing to do with med.reason and everything with lifestyle.

      March 18, 2011 at 07:18 | Report abuse |
  7. Redshoes

    I work for a research facility dedicated to the study of obesity. There are numerous medical reasons (scientifically proven) which cause obesity. Obesity is considered a disease just like diabetes, heart disease etc. Many insurance companies and medicare/medicaid will not pay for the treatment of obesity – medical or surgical. Bariatric surgery can cost $30,000 or more. We have a database with over 225,000 patients who underwent some form of bariatric surgery. The data is amazing – diabetes cured, high blood pressure gone etc. Make no mistake surgery is not "the easy fix" but an intervention on a long road towards good health. How does an economically disadvantaged person pay for it? Many patients are encouraged to exercise post surgery, but unfortunately they have to go to rehab facilities because people like you make fun of them at their neighborhood gym. Instead of making fun of them at the gym why don't you think about encouraging them. That is a much better use of your energy than hating someone you know nothing about. There are also socioeconomic factors that contribute to the food available in certain parts of town.And, if you lived in a drive-by shooting gang neighborhood would you be out taking a morning jog or playing in the yard? The food industry is also to blame with all the additives, hormones etc. And fast food places like McDonalds have scientists who devote all of their time on devising chemical formulas that lead to addiction to fatty food and that also fill you up for the moment but are designed to make you hungry soon after. No, I'm not fat, but I am a scientist and a Christian. Wonder how many of you hateful people call yourself Christians or any other denomination. We are all called to serve with compassion regardless of why someone looks different than you – weight, creed, color etc.

    July 22, 2010 at 13:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. kat

    I have worked in healthcare (an emergency room) and I have seen firsthand alot of these issues. Having to lash two beds together because we just don't have any that big, sucks huh? I once had a morbidly obese woman squelch herself into a wheelchair (after complaining that the largest one we had was too small) and demand that I (120 and six months pregnant at the time) push her. A check of the medical records of most of these people reveal high blood pressure, diabetes, back problems, knee problems along with the corresponding medications for all of these. Rarely have I seen records that indicate hypo-thyrodisim or any of the other disorders that so many people harp on that can cause people to gain weight. If a doctor asks them whether they are trying to lose weight usually the response is something like, "I can't because my joints hurt when I walk/ my back hurts/ I get short of breath/ I'd have to adjust my insulin/ I get too tired" My father's side of the family is seriously overweight, all of them have diabetes, high blood pressure, sleep apnea ect. I made the descision that I wasn't going to live my life snarfing down handfulls of pills three times a day to stave off my imminent heart attack. I eat healthy, excercise as much as I am able and play with my child.
    Now please, before ya'll get started, you people who are a little overweight, that's fine. I know alot of very healthy people who look like they could lose a few pounds, we each have our healthy weight and as long as you feel good about yourself (and you should, you sexy thing 😉 ) everything's ok. The people who put me off are the ones whose weight runs in excess of 500 pounds. If you don't fit into a standard x-ray machine (weight limit usually around 400-500 pounds) don't come crying to me when you break something and we can't get a decent radiograph. They didn't mention it in this article, but that's a market as well, radiology equipment (x-ray machines, CT scanners and MRI machine's) that can accomodate the morbidly obese. That is frightening.

    July 22, 2010 at 14:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. pringerX

    Agreed with kat. Since weight categories are more or less arbitrary, it is possible to be considered overweight and perfectly healthy- in fact, I know plenty of stocky or heavyset folks who are way more in shape than skinnier people. However, by the time you get to obese and morbidly obese, you don't really have much of an excuse unless you have specific medical problems.

    July 22, 2010 at 15:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Jenn

    While some diseases cause weight gain, true, there's a difference between 200 and 800lbs. Eventually you get to a point where you know you need to do something. The only time in my life I've ever been skinny was in bootcamp where I was eating 3 regimented meals, working out daily and walking everywhere. I know what it is like to be overweight as I have been between a size 10-12 my whole life. However, I know when I'm getting to a point where I need to do something about my weight. When you start pushing 300lbs and over, why is it that you don't realize that this isn't healthy and start doing something about it? At 800lbs, didn't at some point you stop and think "wow, this isn't right?" I'm asking because once I hit 185 I know I need to do something and don't understand why other people find that difficult. Btw, I have parathroid disease, fibromyalgia and arthritis, but in spite of the fact that I am in chronic pain (and have been every day for 6 1/2 years now), but I have never tried to use any of those as an excuse for not exercising and doing what I know is right for my health and body. People are haters, true, but it's hard to justify the morbidly obese...

    July 23, 2010 at 17:44 | Report abuse | Reply
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