Health economics of weight management: Evidence and cost Conference Paper uri icon


  • The World Health Organization estimates that around one billion people throughout the world are overweight and that over 300 million of these are obese and if current trends continue, the number of overweight persons will increase to 1.5 billion by 2015. The number of obese adults in Australia is estimated to have risen from 2.0 million in 1992/93 to 3.1 million in 2005. The prevalence of obesity has been increasing due to a convergence of factors--the rise of TV viewing, our preference for takeaway and pre-prepared foods, the trend towards more computer-bound sedentary jobs, and fewer opportunities for sport and physical exercise. Obesity is not only linked to lack of self esteem, social and work discrimination, but also to illnesses such as the metabolic syndrome and hyperinsulinaemia (which increases the risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, fatty liver), cancer, asthma, dementia, arthritis and kidney disease. It has been estimated that the cost of obesity in Australia in 2005 was $1,721 million. Of this amount, $1,084 million were direct health costs, and $637 million indirect health costs (due to lost work productivity, absenteeism and unemployment). The prevalence cost per year for each obese adult has been estimated at $554 and the value of an obesity cure is about $6,903 per obese person. Government efforts at reducing the burden remain inadequate and a more radical approach is needed. The Australian government, for example, has made changes to Medicare so that GPs can refer people with chronic illness due to obesity to an exercise physiologist and dietitian and receive a Medicare rebate, but so far these measures are having no perceptible effect on obesity levels. There is a growing recognition that both Public Health and Clinical approaches, and Private and Public resources, need to be brought to this growing problem. Australian health economist, Paul Gross, from the Institute of Health Economics and Technology Assessment claims there is too much reliance on health workers to treat the problem, especially doctors, who have not been given additional resources to manage obesity outside a typical doctor's consultation. Gross has recommended that further changes should be made to Medicare, private health insurance, and workplace and tax legislation to give people financial incentives to change their behaviour because obesity should not just be treated by governments as a public health problem but also as a barrier to productivity and a drain on resources. A Special Report of the WMCACA (Weight Management Code Administration Council of Australia) ( on the "Health Economics of Weight Management" has been published in the Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition in September 2006. This report explores the cost benefit analysis of weight management in greater detail.

publication date

  • April 1, 2007