Preventing obesity might save lives but it also may end up costing the health service more money, according to a new Dutch study.
‘It was a small surprise, but it also makes sense,’ Pieter van Baal, an economist with the Dutch pubic health institute told news agency ANP. ‘If you live longer, you cost the health system more.’
The research, published in the Public Library of Science Medicine on Monday, found that healthy adults who are not overweight cost more in terms of medical care than obese people and smokers.
The figures were based on three hypothetical population groups – thin non-smokers, obese non-smokers and thin smokers – and used existing Dutch healthcare cost statistics.
The researchers found that obese people cost the health service the most between the ages of 20 and 56. But because they died younger, they cost less to treat in the long run.
On average healthy people live to the age of 84, smokers to 77 years old and obese people to 80. Smokers and obese people are more likely to have heart disease than non-smokers of normal weight. The incidence of cancer, apart from lung cancer, was the same in all three groups.
‘Obesity prevention may be an important and cost-effective way of improving public health, but it is not a cure for increasing health expenditures,’ the researchers concluded.
However, they point out that the research does not take into effect other factors, such as the economic benefits of a healthy workforce and the social cost of obesity and smoking.
The BBC reported on Tuesday morning that the Dutch findings go against accepted views on the cost of obesity.
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