Childhood obesity costing Ireland billions

One in four children currently overweight or obese
  • Deborah Condon

Over 85,000 children on the island of Ireland will die prematurely because of childhood overweight and obesity, and this health issue is costing the country billions of euro, a new study has found.

According to the findings, the total lifetime cost of childhood overweight and obesity on the island of Ireland is estimated to be €7.2billion - €4.6 million in the Republic and £2.1 billion in Northern Ireland.

The cost per person was found to be in excess of €16,000 in the Republic, while in Northern Ireland, it was more than £18,000.

The study was led by researchers in University College Cork (UCC) and was funded by Safefood. According to Safefood CEO, Ray Dolan, while these figures ‘do not 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 study found that 21% of the total costs in the Republic were due to direct healthcare costs, such as hospital, GP and drug costs. However, 79% of the total lifetime costs were indirect, due to things like absenteeism, lifetime income losses and premature mortality.

The researchers estimated that even a 1% reduction in body mass index (BMI) could lead to a lifetime saving on the island of Ireland of €365 million. A 5% reduction could generate savings of €1.5 billion.

"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," commented Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan of Safefood.

According to the study's lead researcher, Prof Ivan Perry of UCC, the findings suggest that most of the 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 in a relatively short time," he insisted.

Meanwhile, according to research partner, Prof Kevin Balanda, of the Institute of Public Health in Ireland, as well as the financial costs, this study ‘emphasises the human impact of childhood overweight and obesity'.

"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 the monetary value of productivity in older people," Prof Balanda explained.

According to Safefood, research suggests that around 55% of obese children remain obese into adolescence and around 80% of obese adolescents remain obese into adulthood.

The study can be viewed here


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