New research puts price tag of £33 billion on unhealthy lifestyle choices

Unhealthy Brits are costing the NHS, employers and themselves £17.7 billion every year through their lifestyle choices, according to new research from Bupa. This figure could rise to almost £33bn a year by 2025 if current health trends continue.

The study calculated immediate and long-term potential savings to individuals and public purses if obesity rates stop rising ; the 26 per cent of smokers who attempt to quit each year are successful; and excessive drinkers bring their intake down to recommended levels.

According to the findings, making healthier lifestyle choices such as quitting smoking, reducing alcohol intake and becoming more active can have an immediate impact on people's wallets;

• Smokers who successfully quit will find, on average, an extra £1,555 in their pocket at the end of the year. If they quit between the ages of 30 and 49 they could enjoy an average additional income of £7,186 per annum in middle age due to increased life expectancy.

• Excessive drinkers who commit to drinking within the Government's recommended daily allowance will save an average of £200 a year on alcohol expenditure.

• People suffering from obesity could reduce their future earning power by as much as £500 per annum because qualifications, skills and experience become out-dated during long-term absences from work caused by their conditions.

By 2025, if healthier lifestyles are adopted the total savings made by individuals alone across the UK could amount to £22 billion a year, two thirds of the potential annual savings of £33 billion.

The £22 billion comes from savings of £5 billion and £3.9 billion through reduced expenditure on alcohol and cigarettes respectively and £7.4 billion saved in additional earning potential due to increased life expectancy from quitting smoking. Individuals could also save £1.7 billion through increased employment and £3.9 billion through increased earning potential due to a fall in obesity levels.

The findings of the report also outline the long-term financial implications of healthier lifestyles to employers and the NHS, which make up the remainder of the £33billion figure:

• UK employers could save close to £3 billion a year (£2,737 million) by 2025: They would enjoy immediate savings from increased productivity and decreased sick pay of almost £1.8billion per year lost through alcohol misuse[i]. This figure would rise to almost £2.2 billion (£2,186 million) by 2025, plus £61 million a year lost through absences caused by smoking-related illnesses. A further £490 million a year would be saved by 2025 on obesity-related conditions.

• The NHS could save £8.2 billion a year by 2025: Two billion pounds (£1,958 million) would be saved instantly through reduced numbers of accidents and emergencies resulting from excessive drinking, £5.8 billion a year by 2025 through reduced costs from alcohol-related medical conditions and a further £1.9 billion and £575 million a year through the treatment of obesity and smoking-related illnesses respectively.

Dr Peter Mace, assistant medical director, Bupa Health and Wellbeing, said: "This study not only reveals the true cost to the nation of unhealthy lifestyle choices but it also highlights the considerable savings to the public purse which could be achieved through individual commitments to health improvement. Data released earlier this year from the Bupa 'Health Age' report showed that almost 70 per cent of people in the UK wanted to make a positive change to improve their health in 2011. While ultimately it's up to individuals to make healthy lifestyle choices, there is a huge opportunity for healthcare providers and employers to play their part in empowering individuals to live more healthily. The benefits for everyone are clear."

To coincide with the new findings, Bupa is launching the "Bupa Health Pledge" campaign, calling on the public to make a Pledge to achieve their health goals - whether it's to quit smoking, cut down on alcohol, eat more healthily or do more exercise. Bupa has launched a simple tool that allows members of the public to track their progress on a specific Health Pledge and access information, free expert advice and support needed to make the desired change, all on its Facebook page.

As Bupa's own Health Pledge, the healthcare company is also committing to donate £1 to the British Heart Foundation for everyone who signs up to a Pledge. Members of the public can sign up at:


Notes to Editors

• The research was commissioned as part of Bupa's Helping You Find Healthy campaign which is a drive to encourage the public to be as healthy as they can be.

• The study was conducted by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr) in May 2011. The research draws on statistical data on smoking, alcohol and obesity published by the Office for National Statistics, the NHS Information Centre and the Government Office for Science. Cebr developed economic models to estimate the monetary benefits accruing to individuals, employers and the NHS between 2011 and 2025 through simple health improvements.

• The figures on potential savings are based on immoderate drinkers reducing their alcohol consumption to moderate levels, smokers who attempt to quit being successful and obesity levels remaining stable. The analysis excludes the effect of the simple health improvements on public finances in terms of loss of tax revenue from reduced alcohol and tobacco consumption and savings on benefits claims as a result of increased employment due to stable obesity levels.

• Cebr is an independent economics consultancy that provides macro and microeconomic research and advice to businesses across a range of sectors, including health, transport, energy, retail, property and information technology.

i £17,688 million is based on the immediate savings from excessive drinkers reducing their alcohol consumption to moderate levels and smokers who attempt to quit being successful:

  • employers would enjoy immediate savings from increased productivity and decreased sick pay of £1,801 million per year lost through alcohol misuse and £51 million a year lost through smoking-related illnesses;
  • the NHS could save £1,958 million instantly through reduced numbers of accidents and emergencies resulting from excessive drinking; and
  • Individuals would save £3,281 million through reduced alcohol expenditure and £10,597 million on reduced expenditure on cigarettes and longer life expectancy.

ii The Government Office for Science has forecast that 2 in 5 people will be obese by 2025. Higher calorie foods and improved transport have been a strong influence in the growth of obesity. Holding obesity rates steady is modelled to reflect a realistic level of improvement by adults in order to counteract these factors.

iii Department of Health - 'A Smokefree Future' (February 2010)

iv The £1.8bn saving is an estimate of absence costs due to alcohol-related illnesses calculated by Cebr, which is based upon the findings of CBI's Absence and workplace health survey, 2010.

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