The rising cost of obesity in the UK

The Tony Blair Institute (TBI) commissioned Frontier Economics to update and extend our original cost of obesity analysis for Novo Nordisk (2022) to provide a comprehensive overview of the cost of adult obesity in the UK. 

In advance of the Autumn Statement, the last before the General Election, TBI highlights the opportunity for policymakers to tackle this problem. 

TBI refers to and builds on our 2022 study, commissioned by Danish health-care company Novo Nordisk, which provided detailed estimates of the costs of obesity among adults. We estimated the total annual cost to be £58 billion in 2020 (measured in 2021 prices),  equivalent to about 3 per cent of GDP.  

In our updated study, the revised estimated annual cost to the UK of people living with obesity and overweight rises to £98 billion (see Figure 1).  The additional costs arise mainly from adding into the earlier estimates the impact of children with obesity moving into adulthood, capturing the impact of those who are overweight but not obese and more detailed treatment of those inactive due to obesity.   Most of the costs (£63 billion) fall on individuals (through fewer years of quality life) and their families and friends (through informal social cost).  

But the costs to the NHS (£19 billion) and wider society through lower productivity (£16 billion) are substantial; the total, £35 billion, is equivalent to about twice the amount spend on GP services, for example. Of this total, £14 billion is attributable to the cost of being overweight alone – a factor that has largely been excluded from previous analysis. 

Figure 1 – Updated annual estimates of the cost of people with obesity and who are overweight, 2021 

Note: Figures refer to 2021 costs expressed in 2023 prices. See Frontier Economics’ 2022 report and the annex below for further details on the analytical methodology used to construct these estimates.

Frontier also produced a partial forecast for how the costs stemming from obesity could increase between now and 2040. These forecasts take account of the expected change in the size and age structure of the population (from the Office for National Statistics’ forecasts) and The Health Foundation’s data on how incidences of obesity are likely to evolve in the future. Accounting for these factors alone suggests the cost could rise by about 10 per cent in real terms between 2021 and 2040, from £97.9 billion to £109.4 billion per annum.

Early intervention to help address the UK’s obesity crisis will result in a healthier population and support that growth.

Click here to read the full report. 

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