New study reveals total lifetime cost of childhood overweight and obesity on the island estimated at €7.2billion euros

  • First ever all-island estimate of lifetime costs of childhood overweight and obesity
  • Almost 80% of total costs are indirect costs
  • A 1% reduction in childhood BMI would generate savings of €365 million

Monday 20 November, 2017. New safefood funded research into the cost of childhood overweight and obesity on the island of Ireland has estimated the total lifetime cost to be €7.2billion euros (€4.6 billion in the Republic Of Ireland; £2.1 billion in Northern Ireland). The study¹, led by University College Cork (UCC) and involving leading academic institutions and multidisciplinary research on the island also found that 21% of total costs in the Republic of Ireland represented direct healthcare costs i.e. hospital in-patient; out-patient; GP and drug costs. However, more than two thirds (79%) of the total lifetime costs were indirect costs due to absenteeism, premature mortality and lifetime income losses. 

Introducing the research, Ray Dolan, Chief Executive, safefood said:

We now have reliable and locally relevant figures for the total lifetime cost of childhood overweight and obesity on the island of Ireland. While we acknowledge that these figures don’t reflect the full human and social costs, they show a compelling case for obesity prevention especially given the huge economic burden these costs could place on future generations.”

The research also estimated the reduction in lifetime costs attributable to childhood overweight and obesity that could be expected if there was a 1% and 5% reduction in mean childhood Body Mass Index (BMI). With a 1% reduction in BMI, the lifetime saving on the island would be €365 million while a 5% reduction would generate savings of €1.5 billion.

Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, Director, Human Health & Nutrition, safefood continued “This research highlights the health, social and economic costs associated with the very high levels of overweight and obesity in our children. One in four children on the island of Ireland are overweight or obese and with a 70% risk of this tracking into adulthood, this can result in lifelong and inter-generational ill health. Much can and must be done to lessen this otherwise inevitable and unacceptable burden on society and implementing the obesity strategies North and South is the way forward.”

The research also estimated the cost per person on the island associated with overweight and obesity in children. In the Republic of Ireland, the cost was in excess of €16,000 per person while the cost in Northern Ireland, was more than £18,000 per person.

Research lead Professor Ivan Perry, University College Cork said, “The distribution of estimated costs between direct healthcare and indirect societal costs are in agreement with previous research and indicate that most of these costs are borne in adulthood rather than childhood. The findings on the scale of these costs and the future burden on society should engender a sense of urgency on the need for broad-ranging and effective public policy to tackle the epidemic of overweight and obesity in childhood. Policy initiatives such as the tax on sugar-sweetened drinks and measures designed to promote walking and cycling among children have the potential to yield substantial savings with a relatively short time.”

Research partner Prof Kevin Balanda, Institute of Public Health in Ireland, continued “This research contributes to a larger EU-funded project that is led by the Institute of Public Health in Irelandb . As well as financial costs, the research emphasises the human impact of childhood obesity and overweight. In particular, it estimated that over 85,000 children on the island will die prematurely because of childhood obesity and overweight. The estimates of lifetime costs are likely to be conservative because they do not include the psycho-social impacts on schooling, social life and work prospects and monetary value of productivity in older people. We couldn’t include these issues because relevant data is not available and more comprehensive estimates could be obtained if these gaps were filled. ”

An executive summary of the report "The Economic Cost of Childhood Obesity on the island of Ireland" is available to download from the safefood website, www.safefood.eu.

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References

¹ The research report “The Economic Cost of Childhood Obesity on the island of Ireland’ was funded by safefood. The research partners who collaborated on the project were the School of Public Health, University College Cork; the Institute of Public Health in Ireland; the Department of Public Health, Mid-West Health Service Executive; the J.E. Cairnes School of Business & Economics, National University of Ireland Galway; Temple Street Children’s University Hospital; and the United Kingdom Health Forum.

All Euro values here are 2015 values obtained by discounting future values with an annual discount rate of 5% per anum

Joint Action JANPA (Grant agreement no677063) which has received funding from the European Union’s Health Programme (2014-2020) For more, see www.janpa.ie

This research is based on simulation modelling techniques that extends an earlier safefood-funded study of the annual cost of adult obesity across the island. 

Editors notes

Childhood overweight and obesity on the island of Ireland

  • Maintaining a healthy weight in children is a major public health challenge on the island of Ireland. At present, approximately 1 in 4 children is overweight or obese and while the rates are stabilising in some sectors, it remains one of the most critical public health challenges we face.
  • Based on the best available evidence from meta-analysis, childhood obesity is a strong predictor of adult obesity. Pooled results from 15 high-quality cohort studies demonstrated that children who are obese at the ages of 7 to 11 years are 5 times more likely to be obese as adults compared with non-obese children. 
  • Children who are obese at the ages of 12 to 18 years are also 5 times more likely to be obese as adults as are children aged 7 to 18 years.
  • Prospective research suggests that approximately 55% of obese children will remain obese into adolescence and approximately 80% of obese adolescents will remain obese into adulthood. Seventy per cent of obese adolescents will remain obese over the age of 30 ² ³. These findings emphasise the importance of tackling the issue of childhood obesity, as it is very likely to persist into adulthood.

²  Simmonds M, Burch J, Llewellyn A, Griffiths C, Yang H, Owen C, Duffy S and Woolacott N (2015) Use of measures of obesity in childhood for predicting obesity and the development of obesity-related diseases in adulthood: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Health Technology Assessment 19: 1–336.

³  Simmonds M, Llewellyn A, Owen C and Woolacott N (2016) Predicting adult obesity from childhood obesity: A systematic review and meta‐analysis. Obesity Reviews 17: 95–107.