Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Economy of Health and Obesity

You probably heard about this study that was recently reported in the media. The title is: "Lifetime Medical Costs of Obesity: Prevention No Cure for Increasing Health Expenditure". The study indicates that it costs more if people live longer, than if they die at an earlier age from obesity. Using a mathematical simulation model, the study concluded that total lifetime health spending was greatest for the healthy-living people, lowest for the smokers, and intermediate for the obese people.

Notice that previous studies have consistently calculated the health expenditure savings resulting from reducing the financial burden caused by treating comorbidities related to obesity. Those studies did not enter in the calculations, the life prolonging effects of treating obesity, and the costs of living longer. Pieter van Baal and colleagues conclude, based on their simulation model, that obesity prevention leads to a decrease in costs of obesity-related diseases, but this is offset by cost increases from diseases unrelated to obesity in life-years gained.

I do not know how to use this information. The study that came from the Netherlands is very objective, and proposes no policy recommendations based on the findings. As a matter of fact, the authors stated that it does not imply that preventing obesity is not worthwhile, since the associated health gain is valuable in itself, for society and the individuals concerned. Furthermore, the article commented that Bonneux et al. (from the Netherlands, as well) made it very clear: “The aim of health care is not to save money but to save people from preventable suffering and death. Any potential savings on health care costs would be icing on the cake.”

I cannot imagine anyone finding it morally attractive or ethical to not prevent or treat obesity and smoking, because of the above findings. Those two particular health problems are not the only ones that can potentially affect the life span. How about stopping being aggressive in preventing or treating heart disease, diabetes, etc. Wouldn't that save dollars, too? Living better, healthier, and hopefully longer, is priceless. Stay Healthy!

The study in focus:

van Baal PHM, Polder JJ, de Wit GA, Hoogenveen RT, Feenstra TL, et al. (2008) Lifetime Medical Costs of Obesity: Prevention No Cure for Increasing Health Expenditure. PLoS Med 5(2): e29 doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0050029 (Full Text)

PLoS Med is the Public Library of Science Medicine


Bonneux L, Barendregt JJ, Nusselder WJ, der Maas PJ. 1998. Preventing fatal diseases increases healthcare costs: cause elimination life table approach. BMJ. 316:26–29. (Full Text)