Or so says a recent Dutch study:
LONDON (AP)—Preventing obesity and smoking can save lives, but it doesn’t save money, researchers reported Monday. It costs more to care for healthy people who live years longer, according to a Dutch study that counters the common perception that preventing obesity would save governments millions of dollars.
“It was a small surprise,” said Pieter van Baal, an economist at the Netherlands’ National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, who led the study. “But it also makes sense. If you live longer, then you cost the health system more.”
Talk about really working hard to find a silver lining in that storm cloud. Smokers, it seems, are in a similar you-die-early-but-cost-less situation:
Van Baal and colleagues created a model to simulate lifetime health costs for three groups of 1,000 people: the “healthy-living” group (thin and non-smoking), obese people, and smokers. The model relied on “cost of illness” data and disease prevalence in the Netherlands in 2003.
The researchers found that from age 20 to 56, obese people racked up the most expensive health costs. But because both the smokers and the obese people died sooner than the healthy group, it cost less to treat them in the long run.
On average, healthy people lived 84 years. Smokers lived about 77 years, and obese people lived about 80 years. Smokers and obese people tended to have more heart disease than the healthy people.
Cancer incidence, except for lung cancer, was the same in all three groups. Obese people had the most diabetes, and healthy people had the most strokes. Ultimately, the thin and healthy group cost the most, about $417,000, from age 20 on.
The cost of care for obese people was $371,000, and for smokers, about $326,000.
“This throws a bucket of cold water onto the idea that obesity is going to cost trillions of dollars,” said Patrick Basham, a professor of health politics at Johns Hopkins University who was unconnected to the study. He said that government projections about obesity costs are frequently based on guesswork, political agendas, and changing science.
“If we’re going to worry about the future of obesity, we should stop worrying about its financial impact,” he said.
I’ve always found the you-fatties-are-going-to-bankrupt-us argument for losing weight to be somewhat less than convincing and this only strengthens that opinion. Which isn’t to say that there aren’t still good reasons to try and lose some weight such as quality of life and just sticking around longer to scream at those damn kids to git the hell offa your lawn! Just know that if you do plan to stick around for as long as possible you’ll still die eventually and probably from something more expensive:
“Lung cancer is a cheap disease to treat because people don’t survive very long,” van Baal said. “But if they are old enough to get Alzheimer’s one day, they may survive longer and cost more.”
The study, paid for by the Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sports, did not take into account other potential costs of obesity and smoking, such as lost economic productivity or social costs.
“We are not recommending that governments stop trying to prevent obesity,” van Baal said. “But they should do it for the right reasons.”
Arguing that fat folks are costing us all more money isn’t going to cut it though.