It's a good year to be fat, especially if you're a shareholder of Roche or GlaxoSmithKline. Apparently the sale of prescription weight-loss drugs has undergone an eightfold increase since 1999. 1.06 million people in the U.K. are on some kind of prescription drug that promises to usher them into the exciting new world of fashionable thinness through heart palpitations or uncontrollable loose bowels. Why all this fuss?
Why, for the burden of obesity on public health care! The article claims that obesity will cost the U.K. 45.5 billion GBP a year by 2050. They arrive by this highly scientific number by a careful weighing of the cost of every disease obesity is supposed to cause, multiplied by the estimated likelihood that the person with that disease is fat. After all, correlation is always causation, so every fat person with heart disease has only their fat to blame. They run the data through a highly calibrated publicly-funded magic 8 ball to arrive at the 45.5 billion GBP figure. Oh, did I mention that they include the cost of the research to stigmatize fat people into the cost of obesity? Sort of like suing people and tacking on your own lawyer's fee for the trouble it took to do so.
So let's break this down.
A one-month supply of the popular weight-loss drug Xenical is 102.792 GBP at drugstore.com. Let's use that as an estimate. After all it's just as scientific as their numbers.
A one year supply of Xenical is 1233.50 GBP. Multiply that by the 1.06 million people and you are spending 1,307,510,000 GBP per year on weight loss drugs in the UK. That's on the public dole.
Weight loss surgeries have increased dramatically as well. In 2005 there were 4400 surgeries performed in the UK. Since that's the most recent hard number I could find, I'll go with that. After all, we want to be scientific. An average cost for WLS (without complications) is 10,000 GBP. So, in 2005, the UK spent maybe 44,000,000 GBP on WLS procedures.
Now the 45 billion GBP projected for 2050 is a projection, of course. Right now the same study states that "obesity" costs the public health system a whopping 1 billion GBP per year.
So let's break this down. Let's be unscientific and set aside the fact that correlation is not causation and that the cost estimates are radically skewed in the first place as they have no evidence that any of the diseases used in the estimate are actually CAUSED by fat. Only that some fat people have those diseases. (as do some thin people...coincidence?) They also generally fail to take into account the studies that show that fat has protective aspects that reduce the occurrence of certain diseases, and therefore LOWER health care costs in those instances. So let's accept the magic 8 ball numbers and say for argument's sake that fat costs the British Health system 1 billion a year. Let's fudge in the other direction to really be generous with our estimates and not take into account the cost of government staff and resources to enact anti-fat policy, police lunchboxes, lobby for new food labeling guidelines throughout the EU, and other "hidden" costs of the war on obesity.
If fat costs the UK 1 billion GBP a year, and failed attempts to make people not fat costs the UK a highly conservative 1.35 billion GBP a year, doesn't that mean the attempt to solve the problem costs the taxpayers 35,000,000 GBP more than the cost of the original problem?
Doesn't that mean that the UK could very conservatively save itself 35 million GBP a year (approx. US$69,537,012.28 at the current exchange rate) by simply ending the war on fat?
I wonder, if they plowed that 35 million into promotion of HAES, fresh foods in schools, pedestrian-friendly cities, etc.....would they also eliminate the so called "cost of obesity"? A lot of studies are now showing that when lifestyle is taken into account, active and fit fat people (even the "morbidly obese) have the same relative lifespan and health as active and fit thin people.
I think not.