The substantial health burden attributable to obesity in Australia and around the globe is well recognised. In addition to the health impact caused by overweight and obesity, there is also a significant economic burden that is borne by all members of society including individuals, businesses and governments.

As a society, we have limited resources, and therefore decision makers need to make choices on how best to use the limited resources available to maximise the health and wellbeing of the whole of society. The complex and systemic nature of the determinants of obesity mean that there are numerous and varied policies, programs and interventions that can be implemented to address the problem of obesity. However decision makers need to make choices related to the interventions they invest in. Economics uses different tools to provide the information required by decision makers to make these choices.

Economics can be used to describe the size of the problem of overweight and obesity, predict the benefits associated with addressing the epidemic and evaluate the value for money of the different options to address the problem.

The ‘Economics of obesity’ stream aims to conduct policy relevant research related to the economics of obesity. We work across projects from all GLOBE streams to generate the economic evidence for obesity prevention policies/programs/interventions. The team has expertise in the application of the following economic studies:

  • Burden of disease/cost of illness studies. These studies describe the size of the health and cost burden related to overweight and obesity.
  • Risk factor scenario analysis. These studies estimate the health and economic burden related to different risk factors such as elevated BMI, physical inactivity and inadequate consumption of fruits and vegetables and predict the potential health and cost savings that can be achieved by reducing the prevalence of one or many risk factors.
  • Economic evaluation of obesity prevention interventions and policies. These studies are used to assess the relative value for money of single policies or interventions. These studies are often conducted alongside trials to provide information on the cost-effectiveness of the intervention relative to the control condition or current practice.
  • Economic methods for priority setting. These studies are an extension of economic evaluations of single interventions and attempt to evaluate the economic credentials of a suite of interventions. Using the Assessing Cost-Effectiveness (ACE) framework, these priority setting studies assess the value for money of multiple interventions using consistent methods. They provide decision makers with information on the most cost-effective bundle of interventions that can be implemented for a specific budget.

A selection of our current projects include:

  • Centre of Research Excellence in Policy Research on Obesity and Food Systems (2012–2017): this NHMRC-funded project includes a large scale obesity prevention priority setting study which will undertake economic evaluations of 40 obesity prevention interventions across a range of sectors including food, trade, physical activity and urban design.
  • The economic stream of the Centre for Research Excellence in Early Prevention of Obesity in Childhood (EPOCH) led by the University of Sydney will evaluate obesity prevention initiatives specifically for the under 5 age group.
  • Development of a cost-benefit analysis framework integrating inter-sectoral benefits of prevention. Given that obesity prevention requires co-ordinated action across several government sectors, this study aims to develop a framework to provide the economic evidence that can assist whole of government decision making.
  • The Risk Factor Impact model is being used to inform different State governments on the potential health, financial and economic benefits of achieving target reductions in the prevalence of physical inactivity, overweight and obesity, and inadequate consumption of fruits and vegetables.
  • The economics stream is currently undertaking the economic evaluation of a number of interventions (funded by NHMRC project grants) – including SHOP@RIC (price discounts on healthy foods in remote indigenous communities); HEDS (healthy eating and drinking study in remote indigenous communities); STAND UP Victoria (program to reduce sedentary behaviour in workplaces); sodium reduction in Fiji and Samoa; iPLAY (an internet-based professional learning program to help teachers promote physical activity in youth); ACHIEVE (use of financial incentives to encourage physical activity) and WHO-STOPS Obesity (a facilitated community engagement process to foster obesity prevention).
  • A study of the costs of non-communicable diseases in Fiji, covering the costs of direct health care, lost productivity, carer support and burden of disease losses, on behalf of the United Nations Development Program and the World Health Organisation Western Pacific Region.

Please contact Jaithri Ananthapavan for more information about our economics of obesity research.