Open Access Research article

Hospitalization rates and cost in severe or complicated obesity: an Italian cohort study

Enrica Migliore1*, Eva Pagano1, Dario Mirabelli1, Ileana Baldi2, Dario Gregori2, Carlo Zocchetti3, Cristina Tuzzi4, Franco Balzola4, Maria Letizia Petroni4 and Franco Merletti1

Author affiliations

1 Unit of Cancer Epidemiology, San Giovanni Battista Hospital, CPO-Piemonte, CERMS and University of Turin, Turin, Italy

2 Labs of Epidemiological Methods and Biostatistics, Department of Environmental Medicine and Public Health, University of Padua, Padua, Italy

3 Regional Health Authority, Lombardy Region, Milan, Italy

4 Clinical Nutrition Laboratory, IRCCS Institute Auxologico Italiano, Piancavallo, (Verbania), Italy

For all author emails, please log on.

Citation and License

BMC Public Health 2013, 13:544  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-544

Published: 5 June 2013



The economic and social costs of obesity are estimated to be considerable, particularly for inpatient care. The aim of this study was to compare the hospitalization rates of individuals with severe (body mass index [BMI] ≥40 kg/m2) or complicated (BMI ≥30 kg/m2) obesity with those of the general population in two regions of Northwest Italy, and to describe absolute costs of hospitalization and their determinants.


Between 1996 and 2002, 6,516 patients who were admitted for the first time to a hospital offering a nutritional rehabilitation programme for obesity were enrolled and followed-up (mean follow-up time: 7.3 years). Standardized hospitalization rates (SHRs) were computed by sex for all-cause and cause-specific hospitalization. The general population of the two regions was used as the reference population. The annual cost of hospitalization was estimated for the study cohort only at the individual level, and its association with different determinants was assessed using a multivariable linear model for longitudinal data.


SHRs of the study cohort versus the general population increased for all-cause hospitalization (males: 3.53, 95% CI 3.45-3.61; females: 3.22, 95% CI 3.18-3.26) as well as for most obesity-related conditions. The absolute median annual cost of hospitalization was 2,436 euros for males and 2,293 euros for females. Older age at cohort enrolment, BMI ≥40 kg/m2, waist circumference above the median (males: 1.26 metres; females: 1.13 metres), and the presence of co-morbidities, such as cardiovascular diseases, respiratory diseases, cancer, diseases of the musculoskeletal system and connective tissue, and mental disorders, significantly increased the absolute median annual costs of hospitalization.


The economic consequences of high hospitalization rates in obese individuals are relevant. Reducing the occurrence of co-morbidities among obese persons may be one important goal, not only for clinical reasons, but also from a public health point of view.

Hospitalization rates; Hospital costs; Obesity with complications; BMI; Waist circumference