New study reveals the annual cost of overweight and obesity on the island estimated to be €1.64 billion

  • First ever estimate of costs of overweight and obesity to Ireland
  • Over a third of costs direct healthcare costs
  • 13 recommendations suggested with urgent action required – issue poses significant threat to health and major challenge for health services

28 November, 2012. Findings from new safefood funded research¹ into the cost of overweight and obesity on the island of Ireland has estimated the annual cost to be €1.64 billion euros (€1.13billion Republic of Ireland; €510 million Northern Ireland). The study, conducted by University College Cork (UCC) found that in the Republic of Ireland, 35% of total costs (€398 million) represented direct healthcare costs i.e. hospital in-patient; out-patient; GP and drug costs. However, two thirds (65%) of the economic costs were indirect costs in reduced or lost productivity and absenteeism and amounted to €728 million. 
Introducing the research, Mr Martin Higgins, Chief Executive, safefood said:

We now have reliable contemporary and locally relevant figures for the annual, economic cost of weight-related ill health in Ireland. While it is acknowledged that these are conservative figures and don’t reflect the human and social costs, they show a compelling case for obesity prevention, based on changes in our food environment and physical activity levels.”

In total, 18 weight-related diseases were studied and the main drivers of direct healthcare costs are cardiac disease (44%), type 2 diabetes (9%), colorectal cancer (12%), stroke (6%) and cancers of the breast (2%), kidney (3%) oesophagus (2%) and gallbladder (3%). Low back pain is a major driver for work absenteeism and productivity loss. 
Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, Director, Human Health & Nutrition, safefood said “Excess body weight is associated with a significant burden of chronic disease, with negative effects on overall life expectancy, disability free life expectancy, quality of life, health care costs and productivity. The findings from this research are critical for establishing priorities in health policy development and to guide and inform our response to the issue of excess weight in our society which is fundamentally preventable.”
The safefood research, led by a team from UCC found that overweight and obesity combined accounted for a similar burden of disease and cost in both jurisdictions with an estimated 2.7% and 2.8% of total health expenditure in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland respectively, this is consistent with estimates from a number of European countries over the past decade. The findings also suggest that obesity as opposed to overweight is the major component of healthcare costs.
Research lead Professor Ivan Perry, University College Cork said, “The current findings on the cost of overweight and obesity highlight the extent of societal involvement in diet and health and the limitations of approaches which emphasise the role of personal choice, responsibility and market forces in relation to diet and health. The current obesity epidemic in children and adults represents a clear example of market failure with external/third party costs defaulting to the taxpayers. The food sector is currently regulated to ensure food safety. Policy makers need to consider whether there is a need to extend this regulatory framework to address the effects of diet on health and wellbeing.”
The summary report “The cost of overweight and obesity on the island of Ireland” is available to download from the safefood website,

- Ends -

For more information or to request an interview please contact

Rachel Ahearne /Susie Cunningham WHPR
01 6690030 / 087 1340390 (RA) / 087 8505055 (SC) /
Dermot Moriarty safefood
+353 1 448 0600 / 086 381 1034 or


¹ The research report “The cost of overweight and obesity on the island of Ireland" was funded by safefood and undertaken by the Department of Epidemiology & Public Health, University College Cork.

Costs Republic of Ireland (€) Northern Ireland
(€) PPP 2009
Northern Ireland*
Direct Costs €398,615,581 €127,406,641 £92,323,652
Indirect Costs €728,968,662 €382,917,113 £277,476,168
Total Costs €1,127,584,243 €510,323,754 £369,799,820

Source: “The cost of overweight and obesity on the island of Ireland" (safefood/Department of Epidemiology & Public Health, University College Cork)
The research team consisted of:

  • Principal Investigator: Professor Ivan J Perry, Department of Epidemiology and Public
  • Health, University College Cork,
  • Lead researcher: Dr Anne Dee, HSE - Department of Public Health
  • Research Team: Professor Anthony Staines, Dr Treasa McVeigh and Dr Mary Rose Sweeney,
  • School of Nursing and Human Sciences, Dublin City University
  • Professor Ciaran O'Neill, Dr Aoife Callan and Dr Edel Doherty, J.E. Cairns School of Business and Economics, NUI Galway
  • Victoria O’Dwyer and Karen Kearns, Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College Cork, Cork.
  • Dr Linda Sharp, National Cancer Registry Ireland 
  • Professor Frank Kee and John Hughes, School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical
  • Sciences, Institute of Clinical Sciences, Centre of Excellence for Public Health, Queens
  • University Belfast
  • Professor Kevin Balanda, Institute of Public Health

*2009 (£) Stg = PPP Euro / 1.38
PPP or Purchasing Power Parities are indicators of price level differences across countries. They indicate how many currency units a particular quantity of goods and services costs in different countries. PPPs can be used as currency conversion rates to convert expenditures expressed in national currencies into an artificial common currency (the Purchasing Power Standard, PPS), thus eliminating the effect of price level differences across countries.
Source: European Commission’s statistical unit, Eurostat

Overweight and Obesity on the island of Ireland

According to the IUNA National Adult Nutrition Survey 2011, among 18-64 year olds, showed that

  • 37% were overweight (44% men/31% women) and 24% were obese (26% men/21% women)
  • The prevalence of obesity in 18-64 year old adults has increased significantly since 1990 from 8% to 26% in men, and from 13% to 21% in women.
  • In the past twenty years men have gained an average of 8kg (nearly 18lbs) and women have gained an average of 5kg (over 11lbs)
  • The Survey of Lifestyle, Attitudes and Nutrition (SLÁN 2007) of adults aged 18+ in ROI found that 60% of respondents had an average waist circumference in the “at risk” zone for obesity (> 37 inches for men and > 32 inches for women)
  • In Northern Ireland, 61% of adults aged 16+ were overweight or obese (Health Survey Northern Ireland, 2012)