SEOUL, Jun. 19 (Korea Bizwire) — The South Korean government has decided to extend its national insurance coverage to patients with obesity starting next year.
The Ministry of Health and Welfare and the National Health Insurance Service (NHIS) announced yesterday plans to invest 9 billion won to provide insurance coverage for the surgical treatment of morbid obesity, beginning in 2018.
The latest move from the government to tackle obesity comes on the heels of growing calls for extending national health insurance to cover obesity patients.
Previously, a special committee dedicated to tackling obesity launched by the NHIS also recommended that extended insurance coverage for surgical treatment of morbid obesity be considered, as statistics from the National Evidence-Based Healthcare Collaborating Agency show surgical procedures are more effective than non-surgical treatment.
Obesity rates in the country have been growing notably in recent years, as the NHIS’s 2015 white paper on obesity revealed the obesity rate among South Korean adults went from 1.7 percent in 2006 to 28.1 percent in 2015.
Figures for those who are considered ‘highly obese’ and ‘morbidly obese’ also increased by 1.6 percentage points and 0.2 percentage points over the same period, making four in every 100 South Koreans highly obese.
When broken down by gender, obesity among men experienced a significant increase from 31.4 percent in 2006 to 35.4 percent in 2015, while the figure for women remained steady at 19 percent.
With obesity figures increasing steadily since 2002, the NHIS predicts obesity rates of South Korean adults could reach 5.9 percent by 2025.
The worrying trend also applies to children, according a health survey conducted by professors Lee Gi-hyung and Nam Ho-gyung at Korea University Anam Hospital.
The survey conducted with a sample of 19,595 children and adolescents from 2 to 19 years of age showed the number of people who are considered highly obese increased from 0.7 percent in 1998 to 2.4 percent in 2014, particularly boys aged between 10 and 19 where obesity jumped more than fivefold during the same period.
High levels of obesity are considered a disease as they could lead to complications including diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease without treatment and professional medical care.
As the growing number of obesity patients could place a significant burden on the national insurance fund, experts warn more needs to be done to tackle child obesity.
Hyunsu Yim (firstname.lastname@example.org)