With obesity, a hefty price tag for a long life

MONASH (AUS) — Increased spending on medical care may partly explain why obesity appears to have little adverse effect on life expectancy, a study finds.

Researchers examined the effect of BMI (Body Mass Index, regarded as a measure of obesity) on life expectancy for 110,000 people and the repercussions for health-care systems. The 12-year study included men and women across all age groups.

The results were recently published in the Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Study co-author Mark Wahlqvist, a professor from Monash University’s Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine and the Monash Asia Institute, say the study draws attention to the growing need to recognize paradoxes with weight disorders in health care systems, both clinical and public health.


“We found that especially in the elderly, medical expenditure continues to rise with increasing BMI, but there was little relationship with how long a person lived,” says Wahlqvist.

One reason for this greater expenditure is that, with age, excess weight is increasingly accompanied by loss of muscle (sarcopenia) and bone (osteopenia or osteoporosis), with their own health consequences.

“The study showed that to maintain a favorable life expectancy for those who fall outside the desirable BMI range, more money is being spent,” notes Wahlqvist.

BMI indicates a relationship between weight and height. The findings show that, if medical expenditure is to be reduced, people must maintain their BMI in the lower end of the desirable range between 18.5 and 24.

“To reduce the health burden, and the associated medical expenditure by both individuals and governments, it is important that people are encouraged to maintain a desirable BMI—and to do so by inexpensive exercise as well as diet,” says Wahlqvist.

“It also means greater government effort for the well-being of aging communities is needed.”

Wahlqvist says that the economic impact for both individuals and society was a consequence not only of the health costs of obesity but also of the effects it had on independent living, workforce participation, and livelihoods.

“Another difficulty to be actively addressed is that the socio-economically disadvantaged are at greater risk of obesity in the first place,” adds Wahlqvist.

“In times of international financial crisis, vulnerability in the health system becomes more apparent. This can be seen in those countries in the euro-zone with demanding terms for debt alleviation, including cut-backs to health system funding.”

The study also included researchers from the National Health Research Institutes, Taiwan and the National Defense Medical Centre, Taiwan.

Source: Monash University