Overweight and obesity costing over €1bn per year, says research

Ireland's overweight and obesity problem is costing the country more than €1bn every year, new research has found.

The study, funded by Safefood, estimated the annual cost to be €1.13bn in the Republic Of Ireland and €510m in the North.

Conducted by University College Cork, the research found that in the Republic of Ireland, 35% of total costs (€398m) represented direct healthcare costs (hospital in-patient; out-patient; GP and drug costs).

Almost two thirds (65%) of the economic costs were indirect costs in reduced or lost productivity and absenteeism and amounted to €728m.

"We now have reliable contemporary and locally relevant figures for the annual, economic cost of weight-related ill health in Ireland," said Martin Higgins, chief executive, Safefood .

"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."

In total, 18 weight-related diseases were studied and the main drivers of direct healthcare costs are cardiac disease (44%), type 2 diabetes (9%), colorectal cancer (12%), stroke (6%) and cancers of the breast (2%), kidney (3%) oesophagus (2%) and gallbladder (3%).

Low back pain has been found to be a major driver for work absenteeism and productivity loss.

"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, health care costs and productivity," said. Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, director, Human Health & Nutrition, Safefood.

"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."

The study found that overweight and obesity combined accounted for a similar burden of disease and cost in both jurisdictions, with an estimated 2.7% and 2.8% of total health expenditure in the Republic of Ireland and the North respectively.

This is consistent with estimates from a number of European countries over the past decade. The findings also suggest that obesity as opposed to overweight is the major component of healthcare costs.

Research lead Professor Ivan Perry of UCC said: "The current findings on the cost of overweight and obesity highlight the extent 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."

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