Experts: obesity puts huge burden on health system

27th, 2013
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imagesMore people are overweight or obese than ever before across Turkey, pushing political economists and experts to warn that if the Turkish government does not take effective initiatives to stop the increase in the number of obese people, the Turkish health system will not be able to meet rising healthcare costs within 10 years.

The figures for the prevalence of obesity in Turkey have already reached alarming levels. Eighteen percent of Turks, or 12.6 million, were overweight in 2003, while in 2012, 35 percent, or 25.9 million, were overweight.

The number of overweight children has increased 10 times within five years in Turkey. According to a report released by the Turkish Statistics Institute (TurkStat) on Thursday, 34.8 percent of Turks over 15 years old are overweight. The number marks a steady rise in weight problems in Turkey, where the national average for overweight individuals in the same age group in 2010 was 3.6 percent lower, at 31.2 percent.

The TurkStat report defines overweight and obesity ranges on the body mass index (BMI) scale and assigns scores based on a weight-to-height scale, a formula that is also used by the World Health Organization (WHO). The TurkStat report also suggests that obesity and overweight rates vary widely by sex. Just 13.7 percent of males 15 years or older were listed as obese, while 20.9 percent of women in the same age bracket were. More men than women were listed as overweight, however, with 39 percent of men in the age bracket considered overweight versus just 30.4 percent of women.

The report said that 13.2 percent of Turkish citizens over 15 years of age have been diagnosed with hypertension, making the illness the most prevalent after obesity. A total of 12.8 percent of individuals in the age bracket were flagged for musculoskeletal system disorders, 9.1 percent for rheumatismal joint disease and 6.8 percent for diabetes. The costs for treatment of those obesity-related diseases puts a heavy burden on the Turkish health system.

There are few economists working on the cost obesity-related health problems put on the healthcare system in Turkey while the number of economists working in this regard is very high in other countries such as the US. Professor A. Ali Koç from the Faculty of Economics and Administrative Sciences at Akdeniz University, one of those few economists, told Sunday’s Zaman that obesity decreases viable workers, causes loss of productivity and also increases the cost of living in a country. Pointing to rising numbers of obese people in Turkey, Koç stated that the obesity issue will results in unaffordable costs in the Turkish healthcare system if necessary and effective steps are not taken by the government. “Obesity also brings financial difficulties to people suffering from it, including expenses such as purchasing sports equipment to lose weight, going to gyms and buying synthetic drugs [to lose weight].”

Halil Kargulu, head of the Struggle with Obesity Association (OMDER), told Sunday’s Zaman that the health expenditure allocated for the treatment of 25.9 million obese people constituted 10-12 percent of the whole healthcare budget of the country in 2012, or $8 million. Kargulu stated that the economic burden that obesity puts on individuals and the country will increase more and more each year if effective measures to combat obesity are not taken as soon as possible.

Some recent steps to combat obesity in Turkey

To fight high obesity rates in Turkey, the Turkish government launched an initiative titled “Turkey’s National Action Plan to Fight Obesity” in 2008. Another action plan for combating obesity was the “Healthy Eating and Active Life Program,” which was announced by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in 2010. Although efforts have been made by public institutions and organizations, universities and private sector and nongovernmental organizations as part of the initiatives since 2010, their activities are not being conducted in a coordinated, planned and integrated way.

The head of the Department of Obesity, Diabetes and Metabolic Diseases of the Ministry of Health, Specialist Sabahattin Kocadağ gave details about the activities being conducted by the Ministry of Health in Turkey during his interview with Sunday’s Zaman. He stated that the ministry has banned the sale of fatty and sugary foods and fast food at school cafeterias, it published a book in an effort to end obesity by increasing the public’s awareness about the negative effects obesity has on human health and the ministry has also made it mandatory to place a warning on salt packages.

The activities being conducted by the Ministry of Health are not just the ones mentioned by Kocadağ above. The ministry has taken major steps in combating obesity in the country over the past few weeks as part of a program titled “2013-2017 Turkey Healthy Eating and Active Life Program.” The government has also increased the amount of taxes for companies that produce unhealthy foods, while it decreased the amount of taxes for companies that sell healthy foods. As part of the program, the Ministry of Education will distribute vegetables and fruits to children free of charge in schools, particularly in schools located in poorer neighborhoods. Furthermore, the consumption of vegetables and fruits will be encouraged through TV commercials. The government also set up a hotline, “ALO 184 Obesity Prevention Information Line,” in order to increase public awareness about obesity and imams in mosques all across Turkey will include in their Friday sermons information about the health problems obesity causes.

Economic burden of obesity on countries around world

The number of obese people around the world has doubled since 1980, influencing negatively the economies of countries, companies and labor markets. The latest WHO data indicate that obesity is growing at an alarming rate and will become unmanageable in the future if countries fail to implement measures against it.

Obesity, recognized as a treatable disease by the WHO, has reached the extent that it brings substantial economic costs to countries. WHO figures show that the countries have failed to stop the increase in obesity. According to the latest data of the WHO, the number of obese people is estimated to reach 700 million around the world while the number of overweight people will reach 2.3 billion by 2015 if precautions are not taken. Obesity is not a personal health problem, it also has an impact on countries’ economies, companies and labor markets around the globe. Some countries such as the US have been conducting detailed studies over the effect obesity has on the economy and developing effective and low-cost strategies to prevent these effects. For instance, obese workers cost employers in the US an average of $73.1 billion per year more compared to workers at a healthy weight.

According to a study conducted in the US by two researchers at Duke-National University of Singapore in 2010, a sum of $42,000 is spent on the health problems of an obese person per year, which corresponds to the annual salary of a worker in the country. According to the result of another study which was recently conducted by Stanford University, obese female and male workers earn $3.41 an hour less than those considered to be of a normal weight. This amounts to $7,093 in a year.

Resource: Today’s Zaman

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