Thursday 20 November 2014

The cost of obesity again (already)

From the Telegraph:

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?




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.


Christopher Snowdon said...

And here we go, the war on obesity has begun. Goodbye freedoms, hello Police State.

A monster has been created, and it's name is not Frankenstein, but "Public Health".

Christopher Snowdon said...

"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."

Is this not the logical end to all this? It's called absolute control. Control over how and when you work, how (and probably when) you live, how you spend your spare time, how you conduct yourself and what you do and say if not think (for the moment). The 'third sector' is slowly but surely becoming the first sector. Nice one, Blair!

Christopher Snowdon said...

This particular piece of public health hyperbola may perversely draw attention to a breed of parasites that infest the private sector. It ought to also expose a fact that many of us have known for years, namely that they are not very good at what they claim to to do and not too clever with numbers.

The mainstream media that produced scaremongering headlines based on their take of this report without any consideration for its accuracy, honesty or social impact ought to be ashamed. May their readership continue to plummet.

Christopher Snowdon said...

Exactly, it is about totalitarian control, with us being no more than slaves to the whims of a select few. Say hello to the new world order, and goodbye to freedom.

Christopher Snowdon said...

No surprise McKinsey pay so much. The epic industrial scale bullshit that is that graph is a wonder to behold.

Christopher Snowdon said...

The new World Health Order!
Pray to them and live devoutly ascetic, or else ...

Christopher Snowdon said...

Costs to society is a great tool, but costs to innocent clean-living individuals is the real holy grail. I'm looking forward to hearing about the dangers of passive donuts.

Christopher Snowdon said...

Well when there's a recession they can point their fingers at the evil smokers, drinkers, fatties, demand we're rounded into camps and...

Christopher Snowdon said...

WTF? Portion control? I.e. sell smaller portions of everything for the same money? As in "nouvelle cuisine" = nothing on your plate but everything on your bill? WTF? Can government please stay the f** out of our private lives?