New research shows that losing weight at any age can generate significant savings in medical expenses and productivity losses, at an individual and population level – even in people who are overweight or obese to begin with.
We know that being overweight is strongly associated with type 2 diabetes and that obese people who lose weight, exercise and improve their diet can lower their risk of developing diabetes.
In this new study, researchers at John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health built a simulation model to represent measurements of weight and estimated cost savings for American adults over a lifetime.
Using data from the CARDIA and ARIC studies, they projected the lifetime costs and health effects for someone obese, overweight or within the healthy weight range, based on body mass indexes (BMI), at ages 20 through 80 in increments of 10.
Here, lifetime costs represent everything from out-of-pocket, insurance and healthcare medical costs related to conditions like atherosclerosis or coronary artery disease, to productivity losses due to missed work days and the like.
Whilst there will be some similarities between the US costs and UK ones, the US has a different healthcare system and therefore personal costs, in particular, will be different in the UK.
The findings, published in the journal Obesity, suggest that a 20-year-old adult who goes from being obese to overweight may save the equivalent of $17,655 (roughly £13,182) in direct medical costs and productivity losses over the course of his/her life.
If the same person were to go from being obese to a healthy weight, these average lifetime savings could amount to approximately $28,020 (£20,885).
Losing weight in middle age is even more “economical” as it is estimated that a 40-year-old obese individual reaching a normal BMI can expect to save about $31,447 (£23,434) while savings equal to $36,278 (£27,026) could follow if this is achieved at age 50.
In addition to cost savings, recent research from scientists at the University of Cambridge strongly support the fact that weight maintenance or moderate weight loss leads to a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes, especially among those overweight or obese at the start.
This earlier research found that if everyone who gained weight had instead maintained their weight, an estimated one in five of all new diabetes cases could be prevented, compared to one in ten cases with current strategies focusing only on those at high risk.
Overall, results from this study show that it is worth investing in public health measures that support people in maintaining a healthy lifestyle and a healthy weight throughout their life.

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