Nova Scotia

Health study shows economic burden of smoking, overeating, inactivity

Would you smoke, overeat or avoid exercise if you were presented a tab with the health care costs involved?

Nova Scotia's chief public health officer says numbers useful for prevention, wellness funding

Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia's chief public health officer, said a new study that narrows down individual health care costs associated with smoking, excess weight and physical inactivity can in help funding wellness and prevention programs. (CBC)

A new report published in the Canadian Journal of Public Health narrows down the annual cost of health care, per individual, of people who smoke, are overweight and avoid exercise.

Nova Scotia's chief public health officer Robert Strang says those statistics are useful for making decisions on funding prevention and wellness programs.

He was not surprised at the numbers which show the annual health care cost per smoker is $3,071, $1,453 for excess weight and $712 for those who are physically inactive.

However, he said he did not believe costs associated with the risk factors will persuade people to change their behaviours.

"I don't believe people will respond to the argument about them costing the system X-amount of dollars, I think the economic figures like this are important to make the case for decision makers and leaders in government around why we need to invest in prevention," Strang said.

Obesity outranks smoking in health care costs

"We need to do things differently ... I think the economic arguments help in that because at the end of the day governments always focus on the dollar," he said.

Obesity now outranks smoking as biggest contributor to chronic illness costs, the research found.

Nationally, the estimated annual economic burden attributed to excess weight is now 25 per cent higher compared to that of tobacco smoking, $23.3 billion compared to $18.7 billion.

Smokers number 17.1 per cent of the population, while 46.1 per cent of the population is overweight, the report found.

The study showed that British Columbia continues to have the lowest rates of smoking, excess weight and physical inactivity. If all provinces reduced risk factors to B.C. rates, there would be a 10per cent reduction in the economic burden, it said.

Individual blame inappropriate

Strang said it is inappropriate to place all the blame for those risk factors on individuals. 

"The socioeconomic environment, our genetic background, family circumstances, levels of education are all important factors in our risk for disease, healthy or unhealthy behaviours." he said.

The study's figures include indirect costs to economy and businesses due to absenteeism and insurance costs.

"They're major factors if we want to create a sustainable health-care system, also a more vibrant sustainable economy. We have to do things that are going to reduce risk factors, are going to reduce chronic disease," Strang said.

According to the report, Nova Scotia has the second highest rate of smoking in the country after Newfoundland and Labrador and places fifth in the numbers of people who are overweight and physically inactive.