Research Chair on Obesity Centre de recherche Institut Universitaire de Cardiologie et de Pneumologie du QuébecUniversité Laval
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Obesity: An Economic Burden

Obesity involves significant social costs in terms of the risk increase of severe diseases and mortality, of healthcare costs to treat medical, psychological and psychiatric comorbidities, as well as reduction in social status and employment accessibility.

In 2001, Canada’s economic burden in terms of overweight and obesity was estimated at 4.3 billion dollars (1.6 billion in direct costs and 2.7 billion in indirect costs), Furthermore, the economic burden of physical inactivity is estimated at 5.3 billion dollars (1.6 billion in direct costs and 3.7 billion in indirect costs). The global economic costs of physical inactivity and obesity represent 2.6 and 2.2% of all health care costs in Canada, respectively.

The above numbers clearly show the significant efforts that must be put forward by public bodies to fight against the physical inactivity and obesity epidemic in Canada. A structured management of obesity should contribute significantly in reducing the global cost of healthcare.

Overweight and obesity and their associated health problems have a significant economic impact on the U.S. health care system (USDHHS, 2001). Medical costs associated with overweight and obesity may involve direct and indirect costs (Wolf and Colditz, 1998; Wolf, 1998). Direct medical costs may include preventive, diagnostic, and treatment services related to obesity. Indirect costs relate to morbidity and mortality costs. Morbidity costs are defined as the value of income lost from decreased productivity, restricted activity, absenteeism, and bed days. Mortality costs are the value of future income lost by premature death.

According to a study of national costs attributed to both overweight (BMI 25–29.9) and obesity (BMI greater than 30), medical expenses accounted for 9.1 percent of total U.S. medical expenditures in 1998 and may have reached as high as $78.5 billion ($92.6 billion in 2002 dollars) (Finkelstein, Fiebelkorn, and Wang, 2003). Approximately half of these costs were paid by Medicaid and Medicare.

The direct cost of diagnosis, treatment and management of obesity within national health systems has only been assessed in a few countries to date. Although the methodology varied considerably between studies, making it difficult to compare costs across countries and to extrapolate the results from one country to another, these estimates suggest that between 2-8% of the total sick care costs in Western countries are attributable to obesity. This represents a major fraction of national health care budgets comparable with for example, the total cost of cancer therapy. The potential impact on health care resources in the less developed health care systems of developing countries is likely to be even more severe .

Defined costs healthcare as BMI costs

Country Year Obesity (BMI) Direct Costs % National Health care costs
US 1986 > 29 US $39.3 billion 5.5%
US 1988 > 29 US$44.6 billion 7.8%
Canada 1997 >27 CDN$1.8 billion 2.4%
Australia 1989/90 >30 AUD$464 million >2%
Netherlands 1981-89 >25
France 1992 >27

The indirect costs of obesity that arise from for example, loss of wages and productivity would raise the total cost of obesity to even higher amounts. The IOTF are planning to investigate further the direct and indirect costs of obesity world-wide as part of its implementation plan .


Katzmarzyk, P., Janssen, I. The economic costs associated with physical inactivity and obesity in Canada: An update Can. J. Appl. Physiol. 29(1): 90-115, 2004

Economical costs in USA CDC
Weighing in On Obesity (US Gov)

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