Economics of obesity

Estimates of the direct costs to the NHS for treating overweight and obesity, and related morbidity in England, have ranged from £479.3 million in 1998 [1] to £4.2 billion in 2007 [2]. Estimates of the indirect costs (those costs arising from the impact of obesity on the wider economy such as loss of productivity) over the same time period ranged between £2.6 billion [1] and £15.8 billion.[2]

Modelled projections suggest that indirect costs could be as much as £27 billion by 2015 [2]. In 2006/07, obesity and obesity-related illness was estimated to have cost £148 million in inpatient stays in England [3]. In Scotland, the total societal cost of obesity and overweight in 2007/08 was estimated to be between £600 million and £1.4 billion [4], the NHS cost may have contributed as much as £312 million.

Whilst these figures suggest an overall increase in the costs of treating overweight and obesity, in the absence of an agreed definition of costs, different studies have scoped and defined costs differently. It is therefore difficult to interpret trends and to compare cost estimates between studies.

Reports by the National Audit Office (NAO) [1], the House of Commons Health Committee (HCHC) [5] and Foresight [2] still underpin the majority of publications which have estimated NHS and wider cost of obesity in the UK.

Click here to view a NOO briefing paper on the economic burden of obesity published October 2011

The following set of infographic slides illustrate the facts and figures about obesity, the costs, the benefits of investing and the potential routes to action.


  1. National Audit Office. Tackling Obesity in England. London: The Stationery Office, 2001.
  2. Butland B, Jebb S, Kopelman P, et al. Tackling obesities: future choices – project report (2nd Ed). London: Foresight Programme of the Government Office for Science, 2007.
    (Accessed 4 November 2010).
  3. Dr Foster Research. Weighing up the burden of obesity: a review by Dr Foster Research. London: Dr Foster Research, 2008.(Accessed 17 May 2010).
  4. The Scottish Government. Preventing Overweight and Obesity in Scotland: A Route Map Towards Healthy Weight. Edinburgh: The Scottish Government, 2010. (Accessed 17 May 2010).
  5. House of Commons Health Committee. Obesity: Third Report of Session 2003/4. London: The Stationery Office, 2004.