Costs overweight and obesity over €79 billion a year

The average societal costs of people with obesity and overweight are almost  €11.500 per year. This leads to a total cost for the Netherlands of more than €79 billion per year. This is the outcome of the study Burden of disease study of overweight and obesity; the societal impact in terms of cost-of-illness and health-related quality of life, that was published in BMC Public Health in January 2022.

The study examined the  impact of overweight and obesity within the Dutch population on the societal costs and on health-related quality of life. The American Medical Association (AMA), the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), and the European Commission have recognized obesity as a non-communicable disease.

The results show that the impact of overweight and obesity go well beyond the healthcare sector, as the costs of productivity losses have the biggest share of the total societal costs of this disease. People with obesity or overweight are not only sick more often, but also longer than are people with a healthy weight. Another interesting finding of this study is that obesity leads to significant higher costs and lower health-related quality of life than overweight. 

The results underline the need and urgency to deploy resources as quickly as possible for both collective prevention (preventing overweight) and individual prevention (effective treatment of overweight and obesity). In individual prevention, the focus is on reducing obesity to overweight and preventing overweight from developing into obesity. Interventions such as lowering the VAT to 0% on fruit and vegetables and introducing a sugar tax are already a few good steps in terms of collective prevention, as stated in the Coalition Agreement 'Looking after each other, looking ahead to the future' 2021-2025. However, more policy measures will be needed to reduce the numbers of overweight and obesity.

At the same time, individual prevention is needed. This concerns the effective treatment of people with (serious) overweight, who also have an increased waist circumference and/or another condition such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, asthma, etc. Health care professionals, as well as professionals in the social domain (debt counseling, tackling loneliness, low literacy, etc.) will have to work together to tackle the complex problem of overweight and obesity. In addition, available treatments in the Netherlands for obesity, such as combined lifestyle interventions, weight-reducing medication and gastric surgery, will have to be used in a more timely, targeted and effective manner.

The study was carried out by Maastricht University in close collaboration with PON (Partnerschip Overweight Netherlands) PON is an umbrella organization of medical and paramedical professional associations, patient organizations, scientific and public health organizations and health insurers. The PON members works together on an optimal approach to curb overweight and obesity for children and adults. It advises the government, among others, on policy in the field of overweight and obesity in the Netherlands. Connecting prevention and care is an emphatic part of PON’s mission.

Burden of disease study of overweight and obesity; the societal impact in terms of cost-of-illness and health-related quality of life. 

In: BMC Public Health

By Julie Hecker, Karen Freijer, Mickaël Hiligsmann and Silvia Evers