Figures compiled in a report commissioned by food safety awareness agency SafeFood found that 21% of total costs of obesity in Northern and the Republic of Ireland were direct. These included hospital in-patient; out-patient; GP and drug costs.
The remainder of the total lifetime costs were indirect and counted absenteeism, premature mortality and lifetime income amongst the losses.
Remarkably, the research estimated that a 1% reduction in body mass index (BMI), would save the country €365m. A 5% reduction would yield a €1.5bn saving.
“The distribution of estimated costs indicate that most of these costs are borne in adulthood rather than childhood,” said research lead Ivan Perry, professor of public health and head of the department of epidemiology and public health at the University College Cork.
“Policy initiatives such as the tax on sugar-sweetened drinks and measures designed to promote walking and cycling among children have the potential to yield substantial savings with a relatively short time.”
The research also estimated the cost per person in the Republic of Ireland at over €16,000 per person. The cost in Northern Ireland was more than €18,000 per person.
Current estimates for the Republic of Ireland class 60% of adults and 25% of children as overweight or obese. In Northern Ireland the overall proportion of children overweight or obese stands at 39.9%.
An impending sugar tax in the Republic, in which sweetened drinks with over 8 g of sugar per 100 ml will carry a 30 cent per litre levy, is expected in April 2018.
A reduced rate of 20 cent per litre on drinks with between 5 and 8 g of sugar per 100 ml is also planned.
SafeFood emphasised the human impact of childhood obesity and overweight in the study.
Of particular note is the estimation that over 85,000 children on the island will die prematurely because of childhood obesity and overweight.
SafeFood said that the estimates were conservative as they did not include the psycho-social impacts on schooling, social life and work prospects and monetary value of productivity in older people.
‘One in four children’
“We now have reliable and locally relevant figures for the total lifetime cost of childhood overweight and obesity on the island of Ireland,” said Ray Dolan, chief executive of SafeFood.
“While we acknowledge that these figures don’t reflect the full human and social costs, they show a compelling case for obesity prevention especially given the huge economic burden these costs could place on future generations.”
Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, director of human health and nutrition at SafeFood added that the figures represented one in four overweight or obese children in Ireland.
“70% risk of this tracking into adulthood, this can result in lifelong and inter-generational ill health,” she added.
“Much can and must be done to lessen this otherwise inevitable and unacceptable burden on society and implementing the obesity strategies North and South is the way forward.”