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The economic burden of obesity


The ECCT hosted a Special Lunch to discuss the economic burden of obesity in Taiwan. At this event, guest speaker Dr Ou Huang-tz (歐凰姿), Professor of the Institute of Clinical Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Science at the College of Medicine at National Cheng Kung University, presented the main findings of a study which explored the epidemiology of obesity in Taiwan, the health utilisation and medical costs and the impact of chronic diseases caused by obesity. In addition, short presentations were given by Dr Lin Wen-yuan (林文元), Chairman of the Taiwan Medical Association for the Study of Obesity; Wang Mien (王勉), Senior Director of Marketing, Market Access & Public Affairs for Novo Nordisk and Saxon Chen (陳俊嘉), CEO of H2U.

In her presentation, Dr Ou Huang-tz gave a summary of the main findings of the report “Epidemiology and economic burdens of obesity in Taiwan”, which pointed to the rising prevalence and risks associated with obesity and the rising costs of treating obesity for patients and the healthcare system. Obesity is a rising public health issue recognised by the WHO, which has been linked to multiple diseases including cardiovascular disease, liver disease, diabetes and strokes. It is also often the cause of lower fertility rates, back pain and certain types of cancer.

According to Ou, there is still insufficient knowledge and awareness of the dangers of obesity. Parents of overweight children, for example, often don’t take the issue seriously in the belief that their children will eventually shed the weight as they grow older. But if the cause of their condition is poor diet and lifestyle choices (the most common causes – genetics are sometimes to blame but not in the majority of cases), children may get into bad habits that they will find difficult to shake off later in life.

The report cited by Ou classified patients into three categories based on their body mass index (BMI) levels and disease status. It found that the most severe patients with BMIs over 32 who opted for bariatric surgery faced the highest financial burden of over NT$144,000 per year, while obese patients with metabolic syndrome and other diseases could face costs of between NT$60,000 and NT$90,000 per year, depending on the severity of their diseases.

In his presentation, Dr Lin Wen-yuan stressed the importance of increasing public awareness of obesity, considering that it is the underlying cause of so many diseases as well as because it leads to lower levels of productivity and economic competitiveness. According to Lin, more than half of Taiwan’s overall population is overweight or obese while one third of teenagers are. He cited an estimate that the rate of obesity will continue to increase by 4.5% per year. While medicines are available to treat chronic conditions, they are insufficient substitutes for a good, balanced diet and regular exercise.

In her presentation, Wang Mien said that, among other initiatives, her company has entered into a partnership with UNICEF to increase knowledge of the dangers of obesity and address the problem of obesity in children, especially in middle and low income communities. The company is working in countries, including Columbia, Mexico, Brazil and Indonesia.

In his presentation, Saxon Chen introduced some of his company’s initiatives and products. To name a few, the company organises a third of marathons in Taiwan and develops apps to encourage good habits and promote good health and offers back-end services for health checks.