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Obesity Cost Korea Nearly W2 Tril. in 2005

Posted August. 12, 2008 06:59,   


Obesity cost the country nearly two trillion won in 2005, a report by a public health institute said yesterday.

The report also stressed the urgency of the obesity problem, which has reached Western levels in Korea.

The Dong-A Ilbo yesterday exclusively obtained the report on the socio-economic costs of obesity from the Health Insurance Research Institute.

The report said obesity cost the nation 1.824 trillion won in 2005, or 3.8 percent of health care costs and 0.22 percent of GDP.

The institute tracked 1,910,194 adults who underwent medical checkups in 2000 and developed obesity, and studied their medical expenses for obesity.

The report is the country’s first to estimate the social cost of obesity based on domestic medical expenses. Before the results, most obesity statistics were academic assumptions based on overseas data.

The study has calculated direct and indirect expenses spent on treating seven major ailments in which obesity is known to be a major risk factor: hypertension, diabetes, colon cancer, osteoarthritis, stroke, heart disease, and hyperlipidaemia.

Direct expenses were used to treat ailments caused by obesity and comprised the costs of visiting outpatient clinics and pharmacies and hospitalization. The institute studied data on death, wages and employment compiled by the National Statistical Office and the Labor Ministry and documents from the Ministry for Health, Welfare and Family Affairs on public health and nutrition to estimate indirect expenses.

The costs included productivity losses from hospitalization and death, transportation fees to and from medical institutions, and nursing costs.

The direct costs were 1.109 trillion won, representing 60.8 percent of the combined socio-economic costs, while indirect costs were 715.2 billion won.

Direct costs for obesity in Canada, France, Australia, New Zealand and Portugal are between two and 3.5 percent of all medical bills, while Korea’s is 2.3 percent. Though lower than the 5.5 to seven percent of the United States, Korea’s obesity has set off alarm bells in the domestic medical sector and the government.

If factoring costs for preventive care such as nutrition, exercise, and counseling, the social cost exceeded two trillion won.

Those suffering from obesity spent the most money on medicine. Pharmaceutical expenses were 522.6 billion won, accounting for 28.7 percent of the socio-economic cost in 2005. The second-largest fees were for outpatient clinics with 303.9 billion won or 16.7 percent.

The costliest obesity-caused diseases were diabetes and hypertension. Diabetes cost 602 billion won or 33 percent of the socio-economic cost, while hypertension incurred 556.6 billion won (30.5 percent). The combined expenses for treating the two illnesses made up 73.7 percent of the socio-economic cost.

Researcher Lee Hye-gyeong said, “In 2005, the percentage of patients suffering from obesity was 31.7 percent. This means one out of every three patients was obese.”

“As we have data on the socio-economic costs of obesity, we should urgently devise measures to tackle obesity appropriate for Korean society.”