Health x Wellness

What is the cost of obesity in Singapore?

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Duke-NUS study highlights the growing economic problem – individuals experienced 37 percent higher medical expenditures – caused by excess weight.

A study, titled “Economic Burden of Excess Weight Among Older Adults in Singapore: A Cross-Sectional Study”, was recently released by researchers at Duke-NUS Medical School. The study involved 5,848 adults aged 40-80 years old from Singapore’s three key ethnic groups.

The World Health Organization defines obesity as a complex and chronic disease that is caused by various factors, ranging from genetic susceptibility, high energy-dense foods, low physical activity and psychosocial factors.

According to the National Population Health Survey 2019/2020, nearly 40 percent of Singapore-based adult residents aged 18-74 have overweight or obesity (10.5 percent with obesity and 28.8 percent overweight).

Duke-NUS study findings

A key finding of the study is that individuals with obesity experienced 37 percent higher medical expenditures compared to their counterparts with normal weight, highlighting an urgent need for effective efforts to prevent or reduce the impact of excess weight.

Obesity is a chronic disease which needs to be addressed and managed like all other chronic diseases through a whole-of-systems multi-disciplinary approach. Studies such as this further underline the unique impact of excess body fat on an Asian population and draw attention to a need for urgent action to avert a public health crisis and significantly reduce the obesity disease burden in Singapore.

Dr Tham Kwang Wei, President of the Singapore Association for the Study of Obesity (SASO), and one of the co-authors of the study

Other results of the study include:

  • Adults with obesity are three times as likely to have diabetes and other chronic diseases
  • Adults with obesity spend as much as SGD 720 more per year in annual medical expenditures and are more likely to miss work due to illness or injury
  • In aggregate, excess weight increases medical expenditures by SGD 178million annually
  • Excess weight is also responsible for an estimated SGD 261million in total medical and absenteeism costs annually
  • The real costs of obesity are even higher as the study did not yet take into account costs for those under age 40 and other costs of obesity, such as reduced productivity while working, early retirement, and even the value of premature mortality

The study was funded by an unrestricted research grant from Novo Nordisk. It was published in BMJ Open and can be accessed at

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