To the average person interested in the subject, there is a significant amount of information publicly available from certain Western countries regarding “the cost of illness” across a range of diseases and other afflictions. In short, the cost of illness includes both direct and indirect costs associated with a particular disease or ailment. Indirect costs include mortality costs, morbidity costs such as absenteeism as well as poor job performance, and ancillary costs such as crime and incarceration. In contrast to what is available elsewhere, one does not find much comparable material publicly available here in Hong Kong — that is outside of estimates surrounding the costs associated with Hong Kong’s air pollution.
However, this doesn’t mean the underlying trends are not similar. In the U.S., what are termed “lifestyle diseases” such as diabetes, certain cancers and heart disease now kill more people than communicable diseases. As a developed market, this very well may apply to Hong Kong also. And in terms of costs, the Centers for Disease Control in the U.S. now estimates that chronic disease, much of it lifestyle-related, now accounts for approximately 75% of the U.S.’s aggregate health care spend.
Let’s talk dollars and cents. The American Heart Association estimates that by 2030 cardiovascular disease will cost Americans $800 billion in direct costs, and another $276 billion in indirect costs, totaling more than a trillion per year. Type 2 diabetes, which is largely preventable through a proper diet, costs Americans $500 billion per annum. And obesity, which has doubled in incidence between 1987 and today, has accounted for 20 – 30% of the increase in healthcare spending during that period of time.
But these statistics just don’t apply to the U.S. One study conducted in China found that the indirect costs of obesity and obesity-related conditions are estimated to be 3.58% and 8.73% of gross national product in years 2000 and 2025, respectively. Waistlines, at least among some, are clearly getting larger in the Mainland.
The impact of poor health and disease on the individual and his or her family is clear. A chronic illness, or an early death, is (obviously) profoundly detrimental to the financial well being of the individual’s family. In a commercial city such as Hong Kong, many understand – at least in theory – that an investment in one’s health today reaps disproportionately long-term benefits on all levels. And while one sees this increasingly taken onboard in today’s Hong Kong (e.g., the growing popularity of health clubs), we believe there is still a way to go in terms of investing today to save a significantly larger amount tomorrow.
June 10, 2013
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