OBESITY is second only to smoking as a lifestyle-related burden on the state costing over €1.1bn a year in direct and indirect costs.
More than 60pc of the population is now overweight or obese, and the costs will mount unless action is taken to halt the growing epidemic, a report by Safefood into The Cost of Overweight and Obesity has found.
The direct healthcare costs of treating obesity-related conditions is €399m a year or almost 3pc of the total health budget.
However, this is dwarfed by the €729m a year of indirect costs, mainly related to absenteeism from work and premature death, the report found.
For example, weight problems contribute hugely to time missed at work because of lower back pain.
In Northern Ireland the costs of the obesity epidemic are over €500m a year, the report concluded.
The figures quoted are very conservative because they include only conditions where clear-cut data is available, Safefood said.
They do not include the added healthcare costs played by obesity in conditions such as sleep apnoea, pregnancy-related illness, dementia and osteoarthritis.
The report said that new food industry regulation should be considered to address health and wellbeing concerns linked to diet.
It found that based on current costs, significant investment in cycling and walking infrastructure could be justified.
It also called for research into the risks and benefits of taxes to promote healthy eating and subsidies for healthy foods such as fruit and vegetables.