You will have by now seen the news that obesity is costing the UK each year more than war, or terror, or smoking.
Obese people cost the UK some £47bn a year, in fact, by the McKinsey Global Institute’s reckoning, due to the social and healthcare costs they incur.
And research like this is vital, so that the government can allocate resources to take on the nation’s worst health issues, and to try to prevent costs and complications related to long-term health issues by nipping them in the bud as early as possible. Prevention is better than cure, and all that.
But the headlines do also sound a tad fattist – a whiff of “them and us”, a bit ostracising.
So we were quite interested to see a counter-argument from the Adam Smith Institute, free market economic organisation, in response to the research.
And it pretty much rips the whole £47bn-a-year claim to shreds.
The ASI’s head of policy, Ben Southwood, said: “We do not want to live in a society where we tot up how much each person or group of persons ‘puts in’ and ‘takes out’, but in any case the premise here is faulty.
“Existing studies find that obese people cost the health service less in total, over their lifetimes, than the non-obese.  Healthy people cost the most, because they require far more end of life care.
“The McKinsey report finds a different result—that the obese cost the UK £47bn per year—partly through counting it as a ‘cost’ when people produce less output over their lives due to obesity. Part of the difference is down to looking at annual, and not life-cycle, numbers. But we don’t call it a ‘cost’ when people decide to become teachers or nurses, who rate their jobs as more satisfying, but are less economically productive than accountants or lawyers.
“It may be that reducing obesity will make people happier and healthier, and if so then we should make it as easy as possible for people to lose weight. But we should not rush to believing that the overweight are costing the rest of us.”
What do you think? Does the original research seem correct to you? Should we consider obesity a cost to the nation? Let me know @sophiehobson
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