Australia's obesity costs blow out to $21 billion

3 March 2010

New research published today in the Medical Journal of Australia (MJA) shows the total direct cost of overweight and obesity in Australia is $21 billion a year, double previous estimates.

The research, conducted by The University of Sydney's Boden Institute of Obesity Nutrition and Exercise, isolates for the first time the cost of "overweight" people in Australia putting it at $6.5 billion a year.

The figures relate to health care costs such as hospitalisation, medical care and medications and do not include the annual $35.7 billion in government subsidies that overweight and obese people receive.

Directors of the Boden Institute and research authors Professors Stephen Colagiuri and Ian Caterson said, "These cost assessments are a stark reminder that we need to do more to reign in Australia's weight problem.

"Australia has one of the highest prevalence of overweight and obesity amongst developed countries and it is costing us dearly at government, individual and societal levels. The imperative to lose weight is clear because the research shows the cost was lower in overweight or obese people who lost weight or reduced weight circumference compared with those who progressed to or remained obese."

The research was based on the respected 2000 and 2005 national population study Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle and showed the total direct cost of $21 billion was in fact significantly higher than the previously estimated $10 billion.
"Usually, studies on the cost burden of obesity look only at costs associated with BMI-defined obesity and rarely take into account overweight. Our analysis shows the additional cost of being overweight or obese, compared with normal weight, is $10.7 billion a year.

Professors Colagiuri and Caterson said investing in measurers to combat obesity would deliver cost savings to the nation.

"What we need is to fast-track the range of initiatives outlined in the report of the National Preventative Health Taskforce to help increase levels of physical activity and decrease unhealthy eating", the Professors said.

The full paper can be read here at the Medical Journal of Australia website.

The National Preventive Health Taskforce Report can be seen here at the Preventative Health website.

For interviews contact: Professor Ian Caterson, Director, University of Sydney's Boden Institute of Obesity Nutrition and Exercise, 0403 656 624. Or Professor Stephen Colagiuri, Director, University of Sydney's Boden Institute of Obesity Nutrition and Exercise, 0419 432 985.

Media inquiries: Kate McEvoy, Health Communications Australia, 0424 649 148.