01.05.2010 Overweight a heavy burden on healthcare budget
Overweight and obesity. Thirty-seven percent of Switzerland’s adult population were overweight in 2007. Estimates suggest that this high percentage is unlikely to change much in the next ten years. Overweight and obesity currently generate direct and indirect healthcare costs of 5.8 billion francs a year.
The proportion of the population that is overweight rose from 30.3% to 37.3% between 1992 and 2007. This development was particularly marked in the male population, whereas the figure for women remained more or less stable. A study of the healthcare costs incurred by overweight (BMI 25-30) and obesity (BMI over 30) suggests that the incidence of these conditions has fortunately just about peaked in Switzerland, but, less fortunately, could stay at the present high level at least until 2022. Just under 50% of males and just under 30% of females will very probably be overweight or obese in the next few years.
The study had been commissioned by the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) and carried out by HealthEcon, a health economics consultancy. The data stem from the Swiss Health Surveys conducted between 1992 and 2007.
Four billion francs’ worth of healthcare costs
According to the study, the direct cost of overweight and obesity to the healthcare budget amounts to some four billion francs a year (situation in 2007). This represents 7.3% of Switzerland’s entire healthcare costs. The direct costs comprise all expenditure on actual prevention and treatment of overweight and obesity. The indirect costs are incurred as a result of illnesses in which overweight and obesity are significant factors, particularly type 2 diabetes, heart disease, osteoarthritis, asthma, depression or cancer, which account for costs of 3.9 billion francs. According to the study, a total of 5.8 billion francs’ worth of direct and indirect costs can be attributed to overweight or obesity.
What does this development mean for people who live in Switzerland in general and for the healthcare system in particular? The «baby boom» generation will be reaching retirement age in the next two decades, which means that over-65s will account for about a third of Switzerland’s population. A major part of the healthcare sector’s resources will have to be devoted to this age group. This demographic trend alone will generate direct healthcare costs of overweight and obesity that will be a heavy strain on resources – too heavy in the case of the Swiss healthcare budget. What is therefore needed are cost-efficient and sustainable measures and prevention strategies that will put a stop to the epidemic of excessive weight.
There is a wide range of options for treating overweight and, in particular, obesity: diet, physical exercise, changes in behaviour, drug treatments or even surgery. An earlier HealthEcon study demonstrated that measures targeting lifestyle resulted in improvements in metabolic disorders. Such disorders include high blood pressure and reduced insulin sensitivity – both of them symptoms associated with the development of obesity and its sequelae (type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, etc.). It was also shown that measures aimed at bringing about lifestyle changes were effective prevention tools that had positive effects lasting over three years. At all events, efforts must be made to shed excess pounds or kilos, whatever the prognoses. There can be no question of simply accepting a situation in which two out of five people in Switzerland continue to be overweight or obese.
Every fifth child is too fat
Overweight and obesity have also increased in children and young people in the last few years. However, conservative estimates suggest that the problem of overweight children may already peak in the next few years.
Valerie Bourdin, Nutrition and Physical Activity Section, firstname.lastname@example.org