Bulging budget: Costs to the public purse of treating obesity revealed


Many of the obese patients were too heavy for ambulance crews to lift

SCIENTISTS in Scotland have devised a formula revealing the cost of excessive weight gain, with each 7lbs an adult puts on producing a £16 bill for taxpayers.

Glasgow University researchers examined the toll on the public purse of seriously obese people, with the most obese costing society an average of £700 a year to treat.

The figure, for those with a Body Mass Index of 40 or more, compares to a £300 average cost for those with a BMI of around 25.

An ideal BMI is between 21 and 22, and the cost of obesity in Scotland is estimated to be £475million annually.

The study, published in the International Journal of Obesity, concludes: “Each unit increase in BMI is associated with a £16 higher annual healthcare cost after adjusting for sex, age, smoking alcohol consumption and physical activity level.”

Dr William Tigbe, who led the research, said knowing the cost of increasing BMI reinforced the need to tackle obesity.

He pointed out in Scotland, where 1.3million people are overweight or obese, savings of £20million a year could be achieved if overall BMI levels were reduced by a single unit.



He said: “This study tells us the public cost every time a person’s BMI goes up by one unit.

“Making it easier for people to manage their weight, or indeed lose weight, could have significant cost savings for the NHS.”

The study compared the cost of treating people with a healthy BMI of 20 with those with a BMI of 40, who are obese.


An extra unit of BMI, calculated by dividing weight by height, costs taxpayers £16 a year, they found.

The study analysed data collected in 2003/03 from 3,324 patients in 65 general practices across the UK.

Researchers looked at A&E costs, ongoing medication, and the cost of treating associated illnesses.

In Scotland, two-thirds of adults are overweight, with 26% of them obese.

The study aklso compared annual medication costs for those with a BMI of 20 compared to those with a BMI of 40.

For men these were £16 compared to £390, and £73 to £211 for women.



Annual outpatient costs for seriously obese women were more than double what it cost to care fr those with a health BMI.

Professor Mike Lean, a leading nutritionist who co-authored the study, said it reinforced the benefits of weight-loss programmes.

He said: “All the programmes that we looked at achieved valuable weight loss, and 12-month follow-up data showed a reasonable proportion of patients were able to maintain that loss.

“That soon begins to generate cost savings for the NHS.”

Since 2007, firefighters have been called in to rescue at least 220 obese Scots over the past five years who were too overweight to move themselves.

Victims – some weighing up to 50 stone – had to be hauled to safety after falling off beds, chairs and hospital trolleys or getting jammed in baths, toilets and behind doors.

In some cases it was necessary for crews to use specialist lifting equipment.