Impact of obesity

The direct and indirect health care costs associated with obesity are enormous. The National Audit Office estimated that the direct costs of treating obesity and its consequences in England alone are approximately £500 million.19 These are 1998 figures and it is generally agreed that the costs continue to escalate as obesity increases. The costs indirectly attributable to obesity are more difficult to calculate, sale but the National Audit Office gave a cautious estimate of £2.1 billion in 1998. This estimate tries to take account of the costs associated with loss of productivity in the workforce due to illness, disability or premature death.

A key concern regarding the obesity epidemic is the effect on the patients’ health. Obesity is responsible for more than 30,000 deaths each year (6% of all deaths in the UK). On average, obesity deprives an individual of an extra nine years of life, preventing many individuals from reaching retirement age.19 Alarmingly, it has recently been suggested that obesity could overtake tobacco smoking as the biggest cause of preventable death.20

The four most common health problems related to obesity:

  • High blood pressure
  • Coronary heart disease
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Certain cancers

Adapted from the National Audit Office Estimates 19.

Together these form a major burden in terms of the healthcare costs to the NHS. There are few body systems that are not affected by obesity.


  • Hypertension
  • Dyslipidaemia
  • Coronary heart disease
  • Cerebrovascular disease
  • Deep vein thrombosis
  • Varicose veins


  • Type 2 diabets
  • Insulin resistance
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome
  • Amenorrhoea/ Infertility
  • Hirstuism
  • Breast cancer


  • Breathlessness
  • Obstructive sleep apnoea
  • Sleep related hypoventillation


  • Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease
  • Gallstones
  • Hiatus hernia
  • Fatty liver and non-alchoholic staetohepatitis
  • Colon canver


  • Immobility
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Back pain


  • Stress incontinence
  • Endometrial cancer


  • Depression/ Low self esteem
  • Binge eating disorder, night eating syndrome

The degree and duration of obesity are important in determining the risk of morbidity and mortality.