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 plans to invest KRW9 billion (US$7.8 million) to provide insurance coverage for the surgical treatment of morbid obesity, beginning in 2018, reported Korea Bizwire.
The move follows growing calls for extending national health insurance to cover obesity patients.
Previously, a special committee dedicated to tackling obesity 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 in recent years, with the obesity rate among South Korean adults rising from 1.7% in 2006 to 28.1% in 2015. Four in every 100 South Koreans are regarded as highly obese.
The worrying trend also applies to children, according to a health survey conducted by professors Lee Gi-hyung and Nam Ho-gyung at Korea University Anam Hospital.
The survey of 19,595 children and adolescents from two to 19 years of age showed the number of people who are considered highly obese increased from 0.7% in 1998 to 2.4% in 2014, particularly boys aged between 10 and 19 where obesity jumped more than fivefold during the same period.
As the growing number of obese patients could place a significant burden on the national insurance fund, experts warn more needs to be done to tackle child obesity.