The cost of an unhealthy lifestyle

29/06/2017

Sometimes looking at hard data in numbers helps us to understand the situation better. Recently, I did some research on the costs of the diseases caused by unhealthy behaviors in Germany. Unfortunately, the results were not very pleasant to look at. The amount of money going into the treatment of lifestyle diseases is staggering. However, I found a positive side from the numbers and I am excited about the fact that we, with our own actions, do have a good chance of changing the direction.

Average health expenditure per capita in Germany was 4,700 € in 2015 and is steadily growing. Around 70 % of the expenditure equals to costs of poor lifestyle behaviors such as individuals having unhealthy diet, not moving around enough, smoking etc. This equals to around 3,300 €/per person/year. Once you multiply this with the amount of population in Germany (81 million in 2015), you get numbers that go way beyond my understanding.

Health care expenditure per capita in Germany in USD and the yearly growth rate (source: WHO) 


Cost of lifestyle diseases

Before looking at the cost, let's first have a look at the share of German population smoking, being inactive, having high blood pressure, being obese, and having diabetes.

  • Only 39 % of adults (43,5 % of men, 35 % of women) meet the recommended physical activity levels of at least 30 minutes of physical activity, 5 days/week
  • 1 out of 5 (20 %) of the people are obese
  • 1 out of 10 (11 %) have diabetes
  • Striking 28 % of men and 22 % of women smoke and 21 % of all men and 9.5 % of all women are killed by the consequences of smoking
  • 1 out of 3 of men and women are affected by high blood pressure (hypertension)

Alarming numbers, right? Now take a look at what is the annual per capita, per condition, cost for the economy (direct and indirect societal costs):

WOW! And that is per capita every year!

To pick one, the direct health care costs of smoking for each individual in Germany (not only for smokers) are 300 €/year, from which the smokers burden as taxes is 168 €. The rest is paid by other tax payers. The rest 700 €, indirect costs, are coming from lost working years, absence etc. and the total cost of smoking is almost 80 billion €/year!

From a lifetime perspective, every obese man is equal to an additional burden of 167,000 € and each woman of 206,000 € for the social security system in Germany

Your health insurance (you) or government often pays a large share of the bill but there is no doubt we all will pay it as increased insurance payments and tax rates, and the money is away from other resources. For our economy it is a massive burden.

Of course, we all have the freedom to choose how we live our lives, is it healthy, unhealthy or somewhere in between, but with freedom comes the responsibility of the consequences of our choices. Modern lifestyle culture and government policies also have their impact into the situation but we cannot put all the responsibility of our own situation on others and make them pay. That is not sustainable for the wellbeing of our community.

Smoking costs men 10 years of their life, while being obese costs 5.8 years, and alcohol consumption costs 7.9 years

Look at the long term savings

The problem is that the savings come with a delay and not directly to an individual. But if you do some quick calculation, we can save some astonishing amounts of money by putting more effort into healthier lifestyles.

For example, if you quit smoking now instead of smoking another 30 years, you can save 30,000 €. Or if you lose weight to become normal weighted and reach the governmental recommendation of activity, you can save 5,400 + 23,400 € in 30 years (in addition you reduce the risk of diabetes). If you multiply this with millions of people, we would have a lot of money to spend into something else. You can only imagine how the world would look like.

With this money the government could hire us all personal trainers, dietitians, physiotherapists, and psychologists to help us proactively prevent getting the lifestyle diseases. In a way or another, these savings would eventually be seen as increased wellbeing of the people.

Individual costs

In addition there unhealthy lifestyle has direct costs to an individual, which are more complex to calculate (financial, physical and mental). To begin with, think of the impact of lost working years, absenteeism, disabilities, increased insurance payments or lost bonuses, cost of tobacco and alcohol, have on your bank account. In this light the few hundred euros you pay to a professional to help you prevent/reduce these problems feel quite small.

As people often argue, eating healthy is expensive. According to a meta-analysis made by Harvard School of Public Health, the healthies diet costs 1,50 USD per day more than the least healthy diets, which equals to around 550 USD (480 €) additional cost per year. So you are right, it is more expensive, but not a big of an investment if you think of the long-term benefits you can get from a healthy diet.

Your actions count

We all need to consider what is the cost of our lifestyle to ourselves, to others, and to the world. Although the government could obviously do more to help this problem by changing policies, helping companies to take more responsibility etc., in the end the responsibility of our health and wellbeing is in the hands of each individual. We must start thinking and acting more proactively and make lifestyle choices, which are more sustainable for the wellbeing of ourselves and the world.

The good news are that we really can do something about it. If 70 % of the costs are caused by lifestyle choices, our actions can have a massive impact. Even a 10-20% cut from that is billions of euros. 

Even small changes can make a massive difference in your health and wellbeing. You can start by following the official activity and diet recommendations from the government, which will get you far. In addition you can get some additional ideas from my previous post about how to improve your wellbeing. 

If you are struggling to make the change on your own, visit a professional who can help you get started. I promise you, the investment will pay back big times. 

The sooner you start, the brighter the future will be.

- Petri

Would you like to get a new direction to your life and change your lifestyle today? Send me a message to petri.mikkonen@wellbc.de and I will help you to get started.