With governments around the world looking everywhere and anywhere for places to cut costs, a huge target is often a nation’s healthcare system. Two healthcare areas that excessively drain health budgets budgets are Obesity & Smoking.
Dez: Hello everyone, this is Dez Morgan here reporting in from Abu Dhabi in the UAE.
Skip: And I am Skip Montreux coming to you from Tokyo, Japan.
Dez: Welcome to an all new episode of Down to Business English.
Skip: So Dez, tell me, how is the healthy living going now that you have given up smoking?
Dez: Pretty good actually. I feel a lot better and I’m exercising more now that I don’t get out of breath all of the time. So on the whole life is certainly better.
Skip: Other people I know who have stopped smoking say that when they gave up, they started to eat more, especially chocolate and sweets.
Dez: Well yes that’s certainly happened to me too and it’s difficult to keep the weight off.
Skip: Well being a little overweight is probably better than smoking, isn’t it?
Dez: Well, surprisingly in overall terms, obesity is a much greater problem than smoking. The campaigns to stop smoking have been pretty successful over the last few years so in overall cost terms, in the UK, obesity costs the health service at least double what smoking does.
Skip: Wow! And that is our story today, so let’s do it. Let’s get D2B…. Down to Business with the real health costs of obesity and smoking and how they are a major drag on the economies of the developed world.
Dez: All right Skip let me start out with a question. How much do you think obesity costs the US economy on an annual basis?
Skip: Sorry to answer a question with a question Dez, but, what exactly do you mean by obesity?
Dez: Well, body weight is measured by Body Mass Index or BMI for short and this is calculated by dividing a person’s weight in kilograms, by the square of their height in meters. A measure of 25 and below is considered normal, 25-30 is considered overweight and 30 plus, obese.
Skip: But is BMI accurate? I have heard that in extreme cases, some sports professionals who are in really good shape could be considered obese using the BMI measure. In fact researchers at the University of North Carolina found that 97% of American Football Players had a BMI in excess of 25 or could in fact be considered overweight or obese.
Dez: I admit that in extreme cases like this where people have a lot of muscle then the BMI measure is fairly meaningless but for most people it’s fairly useful. So if I could return to my initial question before you so rudely interrupted…
Dez: What does obesity cost the US economy?
Skip: Now are you talking about the total cost in loss of productivity, healthcare costs, and various other costs to employers and the state?
Dez: That’s right yes.
Skip: Well, I have no idea but I’ll take a stab in the dark and say…. $300 billion or thereabouts.
Dez: That’s amazing. Wow, USA Today reported a figure of $270 billion for 2011, so you were pretty close really.
Skip: $300 billion. I always find figures that large hard to visualize. Can you give me and our listeners something to compare that with?
Dez: Yeah, sure can. The entire US budget for defense last year, including overseas wars, was $550 billion or about twice the budget for obesity.
Skip: What about if we add in the cost to the economy of smoking.
Dez: Okay let’s do that. In the US the costs look like this. Total cost of health care; private and public:$96 billion. Cost to Medicaid insurance:$58 billion. And the cost of loss of productivity: a further $97 billion. Which adds up to $260 billion or roughly the same cost as the overall cost of obesity to the economy.
Skip: So if my math is correct the costs of smoking and obesity combined are roughly the same as the entire US defense budget and as everyone knows that really is a colossal expense. I wonder, is that the same in other countries?
Dez: Hmm. Okay, turning to the UK. In 2009 61.3% of the adult population were judged as being overweight or obese, with 23.0% of that number of adults and 14% of children actually being considered obese.
Skip: So it is a pretty serious problem in the UK as well.
Dez: The Government’s Foresight Report put the cost of obesity at £45 billion pounds a year from now until 2050 or fully half of the current budget for the National Health Service. However, this figure has been questioned by The Investigation, a Radio 4 Documentary program, which estimates that this figure could be over inflated by up to 50%.
Skip: Which all goes to show that figures need to be checked, double checked and then checked again, if we are to do proper due diligence.
Dez: You speak the truth Mr. Montreux, as you usually do.
Skip: Thank you.
Dez: But how do the health care costs of obesity compare to that of smoking?
Skip: I give up, how do they compare?
Dez: As that was actually a rhetorical question Skip there was no need for you to answer. The cost of smoking related healthcare is a difficult one to calculate as there are issues such as secondhand smoking which is very
difficult to measure. However the BBC estimates the cost to be around £5 billion a year which is still considerably less than the cost of obesity.
Skip: Do many people still smoke in the UK?
Dez: Yes, 21% of adults at the last estimate although that has come down considerably in the past few years. I myself gave up smoking with a government sponsored support group when I was living in the UK.
Skip: Yes, but you started smoking again.
Dez: And I also gave up again so although it took two goes the government sponsored scheme was a success eventually.
Skip: Well that about answers the questions of how much obesity and smoking cost governments today.
Dez: Could I add some local insight?
Skip: Of course, go ahead.
Dez: The UAE is the world leader in one obesity related illness.
Skip: Diabetes maybe?
Dez: Wow, again you got it in one. Yes, fully 20% of UAE nationals have been diagnosed with diabetes and this figure is growing rapidly. This compares with a much lower figure in the UK for younger people and about 20% of those 65 and over. Figures for the US are similar with diabetes becoming a major problem among the elderly compared to it being diagnosed in children as young as 10 here in the UAE.
Skip: Diabetes, another problem connected with being overweight. I definitely think I should consider cutting out the smoking and starting some kind of exercise program.
Dez: Yes you should. But before that , it’s time for us to get D2V….Down to Vocabulary.
Skip: I will start us off today with the noun productivity, which simply put means the amount of work done per person usually in a year. So a high level of productivity shows that people are working hard and producing goods and services while a low level indicates the opposite.
Dez: You are of course Mr. Productivity Skip.
Skip: Thank you very much. In the story I asked whether a loss in productivity was part of the calculation of the costs of smoking and obesity.
Dez: A further example would be when comparing how many hours staff work in a year, those that work more may not ultimately produce more as their level of productivity may be lower. My first word is the adjective colossal, which means when something or some situation or problem is very big.
Skip: You mean like the government debts of virtually every country in the developed world.
Dez: That would be a good example. The one that you gave in the story Skip was when you were talking about the size of the US Defense Budget that you so rightly described as colossal.
Skip: Next I have two part verb for you that is fairly self explanatory but useful nonetheless and that verb is over inflated. This simply means when a number or the cost of something is too high due to an error or manipulation in some way. In the story Dez says that the figure for the cost of obesity could be too high or over inflated by up to 50%.
Dez: That was Radio Four’s supposition anyway. A further example would be before the financial crisis the values of some bonds had been over inflated by a huge degree.
Skip: That is an understatement.
Dez: True. Now I have the adjective rhetorical which is usually used when describing a question, to state that it’s a question that is just being asked and requires no answer.
Skip: Common rhetorical questions are when someone asks a question like ‘Now, where did I leave my keys?’ when the only person that knows the answer to that question is the speaker themselves.
Dez: ‘Why do I lose to you at poker?’ is a rhetorical question I have asked Skip a few times not requiring an answer of course.
Skip: That’s right. Finally I have the adjective secondhand which is used in the story to indicate when an effect happens indirectly, in this case the effect of another person in the same room smoking.
Dez: In the UK secondhand also indicates that something is not new, I believe you call that ‘used’ in North America?
Skip: Yes we do, like your used car that keeps breaking down.
Dez: Thanks for the reminder. And that about does it for vocabulary today.
Skip: Well Dez, I don’t know if it is because of today’s topic or not, but I suddenly feel like trying to give up the butts again.
Dez: Skip, I highly recommend it. The first few days are a little tough but before you know it, it’s smooth sailing.
Skip: I will give it some thought. Everyone, thanks for listening. I’d like to remind you to visit our website to download your very own free copy of today’s audio script. Our address is downtobusinessenglish.com. Once again, that’s downtobusinessenglish.com .
Dez: And if you haven’t already, please do sign up for the Down to Business English Newsletter. I believe the next one is coming out very soon. Is that right Skip?
Skip: Yes Dez, that’s correct. As soon as we finish today, I’m going to start getting it together.
Dez: And what are you writing about this time?
Skip: I haven’t completely sketched it out but since Spring is almost here, I thought I would write about the theme of optimism, and how it is important for businesses to remain optimistic in tough times.
Skip: I think so. Okay everyone, bye for now. See you next time.
Dez: Yes, thanks for listening. Bye.