Obesity epidemic ‘costs over €1.1bn a year’

A “fat tax” might be the only way to curb the country’s growing waistline, a report has suggested.

The report by University College Cork, for Safefood, estimated that obesity costs the Republic €1.13bn per year and the North €510m — almost 3% of total health expenditure in both jurisdictions.

Lead researcher Anne Dee said the estimate was conservative because a range of weight-related diseases, including osteoarthritis and pregnancy-related conditions, were not specifically included.

She also pointed out there was no reliable risk estimate for sleep apnea — a chronic sleep disorder associated with weight gain.

She said evidence was also emerging of a wider range of cancers and a form of dementia associated with overweight and obesity.

One of the principal authors, Ivan Perry, said mental health problems linked to obesity had also not been costed.

“The food sector is currently regulated to ensure food safety,” he said.

“Policymakers need to consider whether there is a need to extend this regulatory framework to address the effects of diet on health and wellbeing.”

The report’s authors, who looked at 18 weight- related diseases, found that heart problems represented 44% of healthcare costs, followed by colorectal cancer (12%), type-2 diabetes (9%), stroke (6%), kidney disease (3%), gallbladder (3%), cancers of the breast (2%), and the oesophagus (2%).

In Ireland, more than one third of the total cost of overweight and obesity represented direct healthcare costs at €398m.

Two thirds (65%) of the estimated economic costs at €728m related to lost productivity and absenteeism.

Director of human health and nutrition at Safefood, Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, said the levels of obesity in Ireland had trebled in men and almost doubled in women over the last 20 years.

She said Safefood’s most recent campaign — Stop the Spread — found people had begun to take notice and monitor their weight.

“We certainly have had some positive results in that regard but it is a very slow progress and there is a whole raft of measures that need to be looked at.”

She said the findings from the research were critical for establishing priorities in health policy development and to guide and inform the State’s response to obesity.

The report, containing 13 recommendations, poin-ted out that the current epidemic of overweight and obesity had evolved over a relatively short time — two to three decades.

It warned, however, that without reliable data on the current and future cost of overweight and obesity, the response to the problem would be substantially underestimated.

* www.safefood.eu

Sickness costs

Cost of obesity epidemic:

* General practice — €23m

* Hospital in-patient care — €134.4m

* Hospital out-patient care — €6.9m

* Drugs — €234.4m

Main contributing conditions to direct costs:

* Type 2 diabetes

* Colon cancer

* Stroke

* Gall bladder disease

Indirect costs:

* Absenteeism — €136m

* Premature mortality — €593m

Main drivers of cost:

* Premature mortality — coronary heart disease

* Absenteeism — lower back pain


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