VHI Healthcare says growing problem of obesity hitting health finances hard
Physical inactivity is estimated to cost Ireland €1.6 billion per year and this will grow further unless the problem is dealt with, Dr. Muireann Cullen, Manager of the Nutrition and Health Foundation (NHF) told delegates at the organisations third annual conference entitled ‘Obesity: A Life Cycle Perspective’.
“The comprehensive Slán survey of lifestyle, attitudes and nutrition showed 38% of Ireland’s population is overweight and 23% is classed as obese”, said Dr Cullen. “A major factor contributing to this is the fact that 59% of adults do not meet the Department of Health’s recommended levels of physical activity, according to the same survey.
“Ireland has one of the highest rates of childhood obesity in the world with 10% of children aged 5-12 in this category. At the same time a staggering three out of four nine year old children do not get the recommended level of physical activity, according to the 2009 Growing up in Ireland report. “
Delivering the opening address at the conference, Minister for Older People and Health Promotion, Áine Brady, T.D., commented; “Responsibility for achieving and maintaining good health is multi-layered; involving the individual, the health sector, education, the food industry and the broader society. It is therefore important that a holistic approach be taken to its protection. Giving people information is the first step in assisting them take control of their own lifestyle and weight, thereby avoiding obesity and the chronic diseases associated with it.”
According to Dr Cullen: “The scale of physical inactivity coupled with current obesity levels make this a national health issue of real significance. For many people there is a clear imbalance between the energy they take in as food, and they energy they expend through exercise. A balance between the two best describes the correct approach to good health.
“Industry, Government and citizens all have a part to play in tackling this ticking time bomb. It’s important to acknowledge there are sometimes differences of approach, disagreements, even tensions between these three groups. However, all now recognise that imaginative, transformative thinking is required to tackle this national health issue. Through a co-operative framework, the NHF aims to bring these groups together to raise awareness of the need for a balanced lifestyle and how we can all play our part in achieving a healthier society”, concluded Dr. Cullen.
Dr. Bernadette Carr, Medical Director of VHI Healthcare, presented an analysis of the cost of obesity across the lifespan from a health insurers’ perspective. According to Dr. Carr, the impact of obesity is being felt from the very earliest life stage with an increase in the rate of maternal obesity and the resulting health effects this has on both mother and child.
“A recent study in the Coombe and Infants University Hospital found that 28% of women booking for ante-natal care were overweight and 13% were obese. Over 45% of the morbidly obese women had a Caesarean section. Since 2000, the number of claims to Vhi for Caesarean section has increased by almost 10% and the benefit paid has almost trebled from €6.5m to €17.8m. In addition, babies at the highest end of the spectrum in terms of birth weight or who grow rapidly in infancy are at significant risk of developing obesity. Obese babies are nine times more likely to become obese adults than normal weight babies”, stated Dr. Carr.
Dr. Carr also said that obesity is an independent risk factor in the development of osteoarthritis, particularly of the knee. Patients presenting for joint replacement are getting younger, heavier and with a longer life-expectancy.
Highlighting the link between being overweight and developing heart disease and the financial impact of this, Dr. Carr stated that since 2000 the number of angiograms has increased by 94% with the associated Vhi Healthcare payout in this area trebling to €23.9 million.
Other speakers at the conference included: key note address from Professor Andrew Hill, Leeds University and a former Chairman of the Association for the Study of Obesity (UK) on the relationship between body dissatisfaction, eating patterns and obesity; Dr. Mary McCarthy, UCC, on ‘Food choice and health across the life course’ and Dr. Catherine Woods, DCU, on ‘Promotion of physical activity and adherence to active lifestyles across the lifespan’.