Cost of obesity 'greater than war, violence and terrorism'
Obesity is a greater burden on the UK's economy than armed violence, war and terrorism, costing the country nearly £47 billion a year, a report has found.
... The report found the economic impact from smoking in the UK was £57 billion in 2012, or 3.6% of GDP, while the country suffered a £43 billion annual loss from armed violence, war and terrorism or 2.5% of GDP.
The report in question - by McKinsey and Company - doesn't go into much detail about how these astronomically high figures were arrived at, but they do admit that 70 per cent of the cost is due to lost productivity and that 71% of that is due to premature mortality. This is, at best, an opportunity cost for individuals. It does not represent a bill that has to be paid by anybody, least of all the government which typically makes savings from the lower healthcare costs of people who smoke or are obese.
You might as well say that early retirement or refusing to work at the weekend - or, for that matter, not having children - incurs a cost on society. Furthermore, their cost of each life year rises in line with GDP thereby putting a higher value on the life of people in rich countries than in poor countries and making it a mathematical certainty that costs will rise as societies get wealthier.
The authors are aware that they're on thin ice:
Some critics may argue that lost productivity should not be included, as it does not generate a direct cost.
That's right, it doesn't - unlike the war, violence and terrorism that you directly compare it to.
However, we believe that, while not a direct cost to society, it should be included because it has a negative economic impact.
Weasel words. How much of a negative impact does it have and who picks up the tab? Alas, they give no answer to this question.
Monetising lost years of life and then collectivising them as if they belonged to society is one of the public health lobby's more ingenious methods to make it appear that personal behaviour - such as getting fat, which is none of the government's business - should be a matter of public policy. It's a bluff and McKinsey and Company's report isn't actually a cost study at all. It's a policy paper about reducing obesity which happens to contain a few unexplained tables with big numbers on it. They were shrewd enough to realise that they would get blanket news coverage if they came up with a Trojan number. This is a phenomenon I have previously termed 'bullshit inflation'. It doesn't matter how the figures are arrived at so long as it produces a scary number that is bigger than the last scary number.
The authors do mention that their cost figures relate to the 'social burden' rather than a monetary cost but, as discussed yesterday, there is no chance of the media picking up the subtle (read: enormous) difference between a social cost to individuals and a financial cost to the taxpayer.
There's a lollipop for the first person to find a politician claiming that obesity costs the taxpayer £47 billion a year and two lollipops if you find someone claiming that smoking and obesity costs the NHS £104 billion (ie. virtually the entire NHS budget). It will happen.
By the way, the favoured policy of McKinsey and Company is something they call 'portion control'. A natural successor to gun control and tobacco control?
47 billion pounds spent on nhs for obesity. How much money could you save by subsidizing fruit and veg and make it cheaper.
— paul hughes (@ChocmanPaul) November 20, 2014
Since obesity costs the NHS 47 billion quid, can we possibly consider teaching kids a little about health and nutrition?
— Mark (@sparky0001) November 20, 2014
Fatties cost Blighty £47 billion in medical care. Trim that blubber people: much needed dosh could be saved, along with the NHS.
— Michael John North (@michaeljay2017) November 20, 2014
47 billion a year NHS bill for obesity! Bollocks on. Time to run " I'm a fatty get me out of here" #leavethemarsbarsalone
— Phil Brighton (@Pinnacled) November 20, 2014
FURTHER UPDATE (27/11/14)
Cathy Newman in The Telegraph:
This isn't about giving obese people an easy way out. It's about looking at the bottom line - no pun intended - and realising that surgery is the most financially astute option.
This might sound odd, given that a gastric band operation costs £6,000 a pop, and the NHS is in the grip of a financial crisis. The health service faces a £30bn annual deficit by 2020. But consider the astronomical cost of obesity, and that £6,000 looks like money extremely well spent.
It's only a week since those number-crunchers at McKinsey and Company declared that obesity is a greater burden on Britain's economy than armed violence, war and terrorism. It costs the country a hefty £47bn a year, which really puts the £30bn deficit in the shade.