The cost of overweight and obesity in Australia

Stephen Colagiuri, Crystal M Y Lee, Ruth Colagiuri, Dianna Magliano, Jonathan E Shaw, Paul Z Zimmet and Ian D Caterson
Med J Aust 2010; 192 (5): 260-264.


Objective: To assess and compare health care costs for normal-weight, overweight and obese Australians.

Design, setting and participants: Analysis of 5-year follow-up data from the Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle study, collected in 2004–2005. Data were available for 6140 participants aged ≥ 25 years at baseline.

Main outcome measures: Direct health care cost, direct non-health care cost and government subsidies associated with overweight and obesity, defined by both body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference (WC).

Results: The annual total direct cost (health care and non-health care) per person increased from $1472 (95% CI, $1204–$1740) for those of normal weight to $2788 (95% CI, $2542–$3035) for the obese, however defined (by BMI, WC or both). In 2005, the total direct cost for Australians aged ≥ 30 years was $6.5 billion (95% CI, $5.8–$7.3 billion) for overweight and $14.5 billion (95% CI, $13.2–$15.7 billion) for obesity. The total excess annual direct cost due to overweight and obesity (above the cost for normal-weight individuals) was $10.7 billion. Overweight and obese individuals also received $35.6 billion (95% CI, $33.4–$38.0 billion) in government subsidies. Comparing costs by weight change since 1999–2000, those who remained obese in 2004–2005 had the highest annual total direct cost. Cost was lower in overweight or obese people who lost weight or reduced WC compared with those who progressed to becoming, or remained, obese.

Conclusion: The total annual direct cost of overweight and obesity in Australia in 2005 was $21 billion, substantially higher than previous estimates. There is financial incentive at both individual and societal levels for overweight and obese people to lose weight and/or reduce WC.

  • Stephen Colagiuri1
  • Crystal M Y Lee1
  • Ruth Colagiuri2
  • Dianna Magliano3
  • Jonathan E Shaw3
  • Paul Z Zimmet3
  • Ian D Caterson1

  • 1 Boden Institute of Obesity, Nutrition and Exercise, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW.
  • 2 Menzies Centre for Health Policy, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW.
  • 3 Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute, Melbourne, VIC.


This research was supported by a Diabetes Australia Research Trust grant and an unrestricted grant from Sanofi-Aventis Australia. The AusDiab study, co-coordinated by the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute, gratefully acknowledges the generous support given by: National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC grant 233200); Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing; Abbott Australasia; Alphapharm; AstraZeneca; Bristol-Myers Squibb; City Health Centre, Diabetes Service, Canberra; Diabetes Australia; Diabetes Australia Northern Territory; Eli Lilly Australia; Estate of the Late Edward Wilson; GlaxoSmithKline; Jack Brockhoff Foundation; Janssen-Cilag; Kidney Health Australia; The Marian & EH Flack Trust; Menzies Research Institute; Merck Sharp & Dohme; New South Wales Department of Health; Northern Territory Department of Health and Community Services; Novartis Pharmaceuticals; Novo Nordisk Pharmaceuticals; Pfizer; Pratt Foundation; Queensland Health; Roche Diagnostics Australia; Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Sydney; Sanofi-Aventis; Sanofi-Synthelabo; South Australian Department of Health; Tasmanian Department of Health and Human Services; Victorian Department of Human Services; and the Western Australian Department of Health. We are also enormously grateful to the AusDiab team for their invaluable contribution to the set-up and field activities of AusDiab.

Competing interests:

None identified.

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