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Obesity costs Ireland over €1.1 billion per year

Costs include healthcare, loss of productivity and work absenteeism.

Image: Clara Molden/PA Archive/Press Association Images

A NEW RESEARCH project has estimated the annual cost of overweight and obesity on the island of Ireland to be €1.64 billion.

In the Republic of Ireland, the cost is about €1.13 billion, while obesity costs Northern Ireland €510 million. In both jurisdictions, the spend is between 2.7 and 2.8 per cent of total health expenditure.

The University College Cork and safefood study broke down the figures to show that more than a third of the costs directly related to healthcare, including hospital in-patient and out-patient care, GP visits and drugs.

Sixty-five percent of the economic costs were indirect. Reduced or lost productivity and absenteeism related to obesity or being overweight totals €728 million. The main reason for work absenteeism and productivity loss is lower back pain.

“We now have reliable, contemporary and locally relevant figures for the annual, economic cost of weight-related ill health in Ireland,” said safefood CEO Martin Higgins.

“While it is acknowledged that these are conservative figures and don’t reflect the human and social costs, they show a compelling case for obesity prevention, based on changes in our food environment and physical activity levels.”

Altogether, 18 weight-related diseases were studied and the main drivers of direct healthcare costs are:

  • Cardiac arrest – 44 per cent
  • Type 2 diabetes – 9 per cent
  • Colorectal cancer – 12 per cent
  • Stroke – 6 per cent
  • Cancers of the breast – 2 per cent
  • Kidney – 3 per cent
  • Oesophagus – 2 per cent
  • Gallbladder – 3 per cent

Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan of safefood added, “Excess body weight is associated with a significant burden of chronic disease, with negative effects on overall life expectancy, disability free life expectancy, quality of life, healthcare costs and productivity.

“The findings from this research are critical for establishing priorities in health policy development and to guide and inform our response to the issue of excess weight in our society which is fundamentally preventable.”

Research lead Professor Ivan Perry of UCC said, “The current findings on the cost of overweight and obesity highlight the extend of societal involvement in diet and health and the limitations of approaches which emphasise the role of personal choice, responsibility and market forces in relation to diet and health.

“The current obesity epidemic in children and adults represents a clear example of market failure with external/third party costs defaulting to the taxpayers. The food sector is currently regulated to ensure food safety. Policy makers need to consider whether there is a need to extend this regulatory framework to address the effects of diet on health and wellbeing.”

A survey undertaken last year revealed that 37 per cent of people aged between 18 and 64 were overweight, while 24 per cent were obese – a significant increase since 1990.

In the past 20 years, men have gained an average 8kg (or 18lbs), while women have gained about 5kg (11lbs).

Read: Health Committee to resume hearings on childhood obesity>

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