Should we count waistlines as a monthly expense?


Ever wonder how much obesity impacts the global economy? Obesity-related expenses amount to about R16.4 trillion each year - that's roughly equivalent to the impact from smoking or wars globally!

Vera Songwe, executive secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), says global growth is projected to rise to 2.9 percent in 2018 into 2019. Growth in Africa has slowed down to 3.2 percent this year; and is expected to rise only slightly to 3.8 percent in 2018 with foreign direct investment (FDI) also on the decline.

In South Africa, obesity costs the country an estimated R701 billion each year. Here are some ways estimated costs to the economy are linked to obesity:

  • Decreased productivity: This costs the country around R109 billion each year.
  • Increased absenteeism: The South African workforce loses around R47 billion each year.
  • Slowed career growth: Globally, overweight women are predicted to earn 11% less than women of healthy weight.
  • Everyday expenses: It takes an extra R31 billion globally to cover costs related to fuel, electricity and other expenses obese people incur.
  • Increased medical spend: Out-of-pocket healthcare costs amount to R124 billion each year globally.

When it comes to healthcare expenses, factors to consider are:

  • The costs of organising and operating hospital services
  • Out-of-pocket expenses borne by patients and their families
  • Productive time lost by patients (and accompanying relatives) due to morbidity
  • Lost work-years due to premature death
  • Welfare losses due to physical and psychological pain

The 2017 Vitality ObeCity Index reports that our nation's obesity is increasing faster than the global average. National surveys paint a disturbing picture, with the number of overweight and obese men and women increasing since the last national survey four years ago.

Prof Karen Hofman, Director of Priority Cost Effective Lessons for Systems Strengthening at WITS, says: "If the situation in South Africa is allowed to continue, the obesity epidemic will sink South Africa's healthcare system.


So what's the good news?

Obesity, one of the biggest drivers of avoidable chronic diseases and healthcare costs, is preventable and manageable. It starts with better nutrition and more physical activity.

Statistics show that South Africans now spend more money on beer than on vegetables and fruit combined. We are increasingly foregoing whole, fresh foods in favour of energy-dense processed foods and sugary soft drinks. National obesity is compounded by the fact that we're exercising less with more sedentary lifestyles.

But help is at hand! According to Dr Craig Nossel, Head of Vitality Wellness, "The healthier our members' shopping baskets are, the lower their BMI and healthcare costs. Having a higher food purchasing score is associated with up to R2 500 lower health costs per year."

Dr Nossel adds, "Results from our Data Science Lab show that those who purchase healthy foods have a 10% lower BMI compared to those who purchase unhealthy foods."

Be a patriot!

It's clear that strategies that promote health by retailers and marketers, as well as incentive structures that reward healthier behaviours, can go a long way in helping to make consumers more aware of their day-to-day nutrition choices.

There's ample proof that better health has an economic impact on society. And the healthier a nation, the healthier its economy. So be a patriot: make the choice today to eat healthier, become more physically active and instill healthy behaviours in the next generation.

Get up to 50% HealthyFood cash back with Vitality Weight Loss Rewards

Maintaining a healthy weight is essential to good health. If, after a verified weigh-in, your Body Mass Index, or the combination of your Body Mass Index and waist circumference, are above the recommended healthy range, Vitality will help you select a weight-loss goal.

Reach your goal and enjoy cash back of up to 50% of your HealthyFood spend for three months. Go for a verified weigh-in to see if you qualify to join Vitality Weight Loss Rewards today!

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