'Obesity epidemic costs 1.6bn euro'
An obesity epidemic is costing the economy on the island of Ireland 1.6 billion euro (£1.3 billion) a year, it has been revealed.
Extra healthcare, reduced productivity and absenteeism all contribute to the mammoth bill, research for the Safefood organisation said. Experts studied the economic impact of 18 conditions including cardiac disease, diabetes, cancers and lower back pain and said there was a compelling case for change.
Professor Ivan Perry said: "The current obesity epidemic in children and adults represents a clear example of market failure, with external/third party costs defaulting to the taxpayers."
The bill amounted to 1.1 billion euro (£888 million) in the Republic of Ireland and 510 million euro (£412 million) in Northern Ireland.
The study, conducted by University College Cork, found that in the Republic a third of total costs involved direct healthcare at 398 million euro (£321 million) and two-thirds indirect causes like reduced or lost productivity and absenteeism at 728 million euro (£588 million).
Professor Perry said: "The current findings on the cost of (being) overweight and obesity highlight the extent of societal involvement in diet and health and the limitations of approaches which emphasise the role of personal choice, responsibility and market forces in relation to diet and health.
"The food sector is currently regulated to ensure food safety. Policymakers need to consider whether there is a need to extend this regulatory framework to address the effects of diet on health and wellbeing."
Supermarkets in Northern Ireland face planned curbs on selling cut price alcohol and some campaigners believe there is a need for similar government intervention on food.
Martin Higgins, chief executive of Safefood, said Wednesday's figures were reliable. He said: "While it is acknowledged that these are conservative figures and don't reflect the human and social costs, they show a compelling case for obesity prevention based on changes in our food environment and physical activity levels."
The research found that being overweight or obese accounted for just under 3% of health expenditure across the island, consistent with estimates from several European countries over the past decade. The findings also suggest that obesity as opposed to simply being overweight is a major component of healthcare costs.