Smoking and Obesity Prevention Actually Increases Health Costs

February 7, 2008 ( - A recent study published by PLoS (Public Library of Science) Medicine concludes obese individuals and smokers are cheaper for the health sector than lean, non-smokers in the long run.

PLoS says the study found that although annual health-care costs are highest for obese people earlier in life (until age 56 years), and are highest for smokers at older ages, the ultimate lifetime costs are highest for the healthy (nonsmoking, non-obese) people. Hence the authors argue that medical costs will not be saved by preventing obesity.

The results of the study show that life expectancy from age 20 is reduced by five years for obese people and seven for smokers, so healthy people live to incur greater medical expenditure on average – more than compensating for the earlier excess expenditure related to obesity or smoking.

However, PLoS cautions about the conclusions one can make using the study results. The magazine points out hat if you examine an obese population and a lean population of the same age and sex distribution, the obese will incur far greater health care costs throughout the life course. Much more diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer will occur amongst the obese, the article said.

Apart from health-care costs, other costs to society from obesity are greater because of absences from work due to illness and employment difficulties, according to PLoS.

As for implications of the study results, PLoS noted, “Unless taxpayers take their cue and eat too much and exercise too little in order to reduce their tax burden, it has no particular implications.”

PLoS said the study confirms the high medical costs of living to old age, but the results should not be interpreted as justifying the “cost savings” to society of dying younger. Even the study authors point out it would be wrong to interpret the findings as meaning that public disease prevention has no benefits, according to PLoS.

The study authors noted that prevention may not be a “a cure for increasing expenditures – instead it may well be a cost-effective cure for much morbidity and mortality and, importantly, contribute to the health of nations.”

The report is here .