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Exp Clin Endocrinol Diabetes. 1998;106 Suppl 2:7-9.

Societal and personal costs of obesity.

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  • 1Department of Chronic Diseases and Environmental Epidemiology, National Institute of Public Health and Environmental Protection (RIVM), The Netherlands.


The economic costs of obesity can be broken down into three levels: 1.


Costs to the community, related to the diversion of resources to the diagnosis and treatment of diseases directly related to obesity, as well as the treatment of obesity itself. These costs have been estimated to vary between 1-5% of total healthcare costs for various countries. Usually, the cost of obesity alone has been calculated, although it is known that the costs associated with being overweight [body mass index (BMI) 25-30 kg/m2] are also substantial because of the large proportion of individuals involved. These constitute costs to the health service (visits to general practitioners, consultations with medical specialists, hospital admissions and medication). 2.


These costs are related to the loss of productivity caused by absenteeism, disability pensions and premature death. There is a lack of good economic analysis on this subject, although research from Sweden, Finland and the Netherlands has clearly shown that obesity is associated with increased sick leave and disability pensions. 3.


Obese subjects may earn less than their lean counterparts because of job discrimination (related to the stigma associated with obesity, or due to diseases and disabilities caused by obesity). Many insurance companies (particularly life insurance) charge higher premiums with increasing degrees of overweight. Obesity is further related to poor physical functioning and limitations in daily life. Some of these require assistance or adaptations which may be costly for an individual. In conclusion, there is much indirect information that obesity and overweight contribute substantially to healthcare-related costs. Data on aspects such as societal costs and personal costs are too fragmentary to allow calculation of the expenses involved. An appropriate analysis of all costs associated with obesity is important in order to persuade responsible bodies to develop strategies towards the prevention and long-term management of obesity.

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