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Rising levels of obesity may soon hit the economy

A report has warned that there is a high economic price to pay for obesity. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

A report has warned that there is a high economic price to pay for obesity. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

Failure to reverse the rising levels in obesity will start hitting the economy hard as this may result in the loss of up to 90,000 hours of work due to health complications in the next six years, a report has warned.

This scenario is more than likely, given that the government’s target to reduce the prevalence of obesity in Malta to 18 per cent by 2020 seems to be way off the mark – with the current level still standing at 25 per cent.

This warning was sounded in a study carried out by PwC on the cost of obesity in Malta, which was commissioned by the health ministry.

The report was tabled in Parliament on Monday in reply to a parliamentary question filed by PN MP Claudette Buttigieg.

The report noted that last year the cost of obesity soared to €36.3 million which equates to 0.4 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product.

Last year the cost of obesity soared to €36.3m which equates to 0.4% of the country’s GDP

The bill comprises €16.2 million from the public sector ranging from direct costs to treat obesity-related conditions at €12.1 million, to indirect costs such as absenteeism from work which cost taxpayers €1.8 million.

In the private sector which comprises expenses incurred by obese individuals as well as their employers, the bill was even higher at €20.1 million.

Nearly a third was spent on pharmaceuticals with €6.7 million, while absenteeism cost employers €4.7 million.

From a medical perspective, the report concluded that additional visits to general practitioners and specialists were projected to increase by three per cent over a six-year period.

Furthermore, a five per cent rise is being forecast in average total additional inpatients nights and day patients stay, over the same period.

In terms of pharmaceuticals, there will be an increase of 690 patients consuming medicines to treat anxiety and depression by 2022. The effects seem to be even more pronounced in the case of treatment for hypertension, cholesterol and diabetes.

Increased obesity levels may soon have repercussion at work.

The study warns that this will invariably lead to workers suffering from a form of disability that would inhibit them from performing their duties at full capacity. High-level estimates indicate that an additional 90,000 hours would be lost from total productivity generation in the next six years.

Looking ahead, the report also estimates that by 2022 the total cost of obesity will rise to €41.4 million which translates to €110 per capita.

In the long term the figure could even soar to €46.5 million by 2050.

On the other hand, the study points out that even a minimal reduction in obesity could translate into substantial savings both for taxpayers and employers.

In this respect the report re-commends devoting more re-sources on the strategies and policies already in place for their successful implementation.

These vary from subsidising healthy foods and taxing those linked to obesity, further emphasis on physical activity and a healthy lifestyle in schools, as well as monitoring closely the weight of patients needing treatment in hospitals.

Obesity costs in 2016*

Type Public Sector Private Sector National Cost
  € million € million € million
Direct costs      
Primary care 1.3 1.8 3.1
Specialist care 2.7 0.2 2.9
Hospital care 3.1 1.4 4.5
Allied Healthcare Professionals 0.2 0.1 0.3
Pharmaceutical care 4.0 6.7 10.7
Weight loss interventions 0.4 1.5 1.9
Public interventions 0.4 N/A 0.4
Indirect costs    
Absenteeism  1.8 4.7 6.5
Presenteeism 0.9 2.3 3.2
Govt. subsidies 0.9 N/A 1.4
Forgone earnings N/A 1.4 1.4
Forgone taxes 0.5 N/A 0.5
Total 16.2 20.1 36.3

Notes

Presenteeism refers to occasions whereby employees are at work but may not perform to their best due to some condition or illness.

Forgone earnings refer to the loss in income suffered by morbidly obese individuals not in condition to work.

Forgone taxes refers to loss in government revenue due to the inability of morbidly obese persons to work.

*Source: Weighing the costs of obesity in Malta, PwC

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