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20 November 2017

New 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 (£2.1 billion in Northern Ireland, €4.6 billion in the Republic of Ireland).

The study¹, led by University College Cork (UCC) and involving leading academic institutions and multidisciplinary research on the island also found that 26 per cent of total costs in Northern Ireland represented direct healthcare costs i.e. hospital in-patient; out-patient; GP and drug costs. However, almost three quarters (74%) 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 in Northern Ireland would be £79.5m, while a 5% reduction would generate savings of £329.3m (€1.1bn for the island as a whole).

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 is 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 Northern Ireland, the cost was almost £19,000 per person, while in the Republic, this figure is more than €16,000 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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