The Cost-Saving Argument For Obesity Prevention Is No Better

sharma-obesity-money5Yesterday, I suggested that using a cost-saving argument to justify treatments for obesity reeks of discrimination. I argued that even if obesity treatment costs the system money, it needs to be delivered in the same way that we deliver treatments for other conditions – not because they save money, but because that’s what people living with those conditions deserve.

But the “cost-saving” argument is not just used to justify treatment for obesity – it is also regularly and widely used to justify spending money on obesity prevention. The usual line of argumentation is that x dollars spent on obesity prevention will save y times x dollars in healthcare spending, which is why we need to prevent obesity.

This is nonsense. We should be preventing obesity whether or not it saves money for the healthcare system, simply because obesity (defined here as excess weight that actually causes health problems) negatively impacts health and well-being. If this costs money, so be it.

Obviously, no one is asking anyone to simply pay for everything (prevention or treatment) just because it is the right thing to do, no matter the cost.

In real life cost does matter and there is a fiscal responsibility to spend money on things that are effective and deliver real benefits – but let us not wander into weighing one disease against another in making that decision.

And most certainly the question of “fault and responsibility” leads to a very slippery slope, given that so much of what affects our health (from infections to cancer, from accidents to chronic diseases) is often avoidable.

The question really boils down to whether or not there are effective ways to prevent obesity – if there are, they need to be funded, whether they save money or not.

Edmonton, AB