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Obesity and the burden of non-communicable diseases

A recent study of the cost of excess weight in New Zealand finds that the extent of obesity here costs us about $2b a year: The cost of excess weight in NZ | Newsroom It is well worth a read. Obesity is a known driver for a variety of non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, stroke, and cancer. The disease burden is large and the costs - both direct and in-direct were always going to be large too. To put that $2bn into perspective, it is about 8% of the total health budget. Cutting this figure would substantially reduce the number of early deaths we experience - by hundreds each year. 

We should be interested in how to get from here to there. Our obesity rate at just over 30% is not so far behind the USA at 36% and is significantly larger than the UK's at about 27%. Our goal should be to get down to a level more in line with, say, France, at just over 20%. Given the estimated costs of obesity, that drop could save us $700m a year. It would extend the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, improving, in turn, the lives of their families and communities. 

But we cannot win this prize by blaming or shaming people who are obese. It does no good. It also fails to address the context of the problem. I spent a substantial part of my life being overweight - people that dared point it out got the cold shoulder. In the end, I decided to change, but it takes a lot of effort to push against the dominant context which is that eating and drinking too many calories is normal. More than anything else that affects our behaviour, it is what people around us do that matters most. That is a complicated project which may take decades. 

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