Dutch researchers have confirmed what fat smokers have waited years to hear - that healthy people are actually a greater burden on the state, because they live longer and oblige the taxpayer to deal with the cost of "lingering diseases of old age like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s".
That's according to the Netherlands’ National Institute for Public Health and Environment, which found that while "a person of normal weight costs on average £210,000 over their lifetime", a smoker clocks up just £165,000 and the obese run up an average £187,000 bill.
The team's findings, published in the Public Library of Science (PLoS), are based on modelling "three hypothetical populations from the age of 20, to see how much they would cost in medical bills throughout the different stages of their lives", the Telegraph explains.
The study states: “The underlying mechanism is that there is a substitution of inexpensive, lethal diseases towards less lethal, and therefore more costly diseases.”
It adds: “Although effective obesity prevention leads to a decrease in costs of obesity-related diseases, this decrease is offset by cost increases due to diseases unrelated to obesity in life-years gained. Obesity prevention may be an important and cost-effective way of improving public health, but it is not a cure for increasing health expenditures.”
The scientists did, however, concede their research "did not look at the total costs of obesity and smoking, just the narrowly-prescribed health costs". Report co-author professor Klim McPherson, of Oxford University, warned: “It would be wrong to interpret the findings as meaning that public-health prevention, for example to prevent obesity, has no benefits.
“Quite apart from health-care costs, the other costs to society from obesity are also greater because of absences from work due to illness and employment difficulties; these costs amount to considerably more than health-care costs.”
In the end, then, the actual cost of fag-puffing overweights appears to be a matter for debate.
While obesity is already apparently costing the NHS £1bn a year, we wouldn't be the first to point out that smokers (and drinkers, for that matter) contribute vast sums of tax to the exchequer every year by resolutely sticking to their deadly vices.