The burden of obesity and its sequelae

Author(s): Siedel JC


Obesity [body mass index (BMI) ≥30 kg/m2] is common in many parts of the world, especially in the established market economies, formerly socialist economies of Europe and Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as the Middle Eastern Crescent. Worldwide, as many as 250 million people may be obese (7% of the adult population) and 2 to 3 times as many may be considered overweight (BMI 25 to 30 kg/m2). The prevalence of obesity seems to be increasing in most parts of the world, even in areas where obesity used to be rare.

A waist circumference greater than 102cm in men and 88cm in women may be a more sensible classification than BMI to identify individuals who are at increased health risk because of obesity, but information on this point is still scarce.

Increased fatness measured by a high BMI, large waist circumference or high waist/hip circumference ratio is associated with many chronic diseases as well as poor physical functioning. These all contribute to the costs associated with excess bodyweight. The economic costs of obesity can be broken down into 3 levels

Direct costs: 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 account for 2 to 8% of total healthcare costs of various countries.

Indirect (or societal) costs: these costs are related to the loss of productivity caused by absenteeism and premature death and disability pensions. There is a lack of good economic analysis in this area, although research from Sweden, Finland and The Netherlands has clearly shown that obesity is associated with increased sick leave and the need for disability pensions.

Personal costs: obese individuals may earn less than their lean counterparts because of job discrimination (related to the stigma associated with obesity or because of diseases and disabilities caused by obesity). Many insurance companies (particularly life insurance) charge higher premiums with increasing degrees of overweight.

In conclusion, there is much indirect information that obesity and overweight are important and growing public health concerns that contribute substantially to healthcare-related costs. Effective strategies for the prevention and management of obesity are needed.

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