According to the Daily Mail (…obesity epidemic…) the NHS could give “vouchers to the overweight to spend on healthy food in supermarkets” or cash prizes to those who manage to lose weight. The UK could also mandate cooking classes in school and more time for physical education classes.
The UK report on obesity states: “We need to rework the incentives for individuals and public bodies to encourage actions now, thereby avoiding much larger costs in later years.”
But will decreasing obesity save the government money? Not according to a recent paper in the PLoS Medicine titled “Lifetime Medical Costs of Obesity: Prevention No Cure for Increasing Health Expenditure.” The paper finds that healthy people have more lifetime medical costs that either obese individuals or smokers. How can this be the case? It is true, that each year an obese individual lives they will incur more medical costs than a healthy person. In particular, spending on heart disease, diabetes, and musculoskeletal diseases. Since a healthy person lives longer, however, the healthy person has more years of medical expenditures which will accumulate compared to an obese individual. Similarly, smokers have higher medical costs per year but since they have a shorter life expectancy, smokers actually incur fewer medical costs over their lifetime than healthy individuals.
It seems that giving prizes to obese individuals for losing weight will not only be costly in terms of the tax revenue needed to fund the project, but will also increase medical expenditures if people do in fact lose weight. The Healthcare Economist is proposing a revolutionary concept: let each individual choose their own weight make their own lifestyle choices without any government interference.
- van Baal PHM, Polder JJ, de Wit GA, Hoogenveen RT, Feenstra TL, et al. (2008) Lifetime medical costs of obesity: Prevention no cure for increasing health expenditure. PLoS Med 5(2): e29. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0050029