Study shows WA obesity prevention campaign worth its weight in gold

An Australian-first study by Institute for Health Transformation health economics researchers has demonstrated the economic value of the WA LiveLighter® campaign to combat obesity in Western Australia.

Written by Judy Baulch

The Public Health Association of Australia’s (PHAA) Preventive Health Conference in Perth will today hear that the WA LiveLighter® multi-media campaign aimed at combatting obesity in the Western Australian (WA) population since 2012 is both effective and good value for money.

Health economists from the Institute for Health Transformation conducted a comprehensive analysis of the LiveLighter® campaign, which is delivered by Cancer Council WA and has been funded by the WA Department of Health for the past nine years.

The report’s lead author, Senior Research Fellow Jaithri Ananthapavan from the Institute’s Deakin Health Economics research domain, said the campaign – which uses TV, radio, cinema, social media and out-of-home advertising to encourage West Australians to maintain a healthy weight – not only improves health outcomes, but also produces substantial healthcare cost-savings.

“Our analysis showed that the campaign resulted in people reducing their consumption of sugary drinks and sweet foods. Even small reductions in the consumption of junk foods result in substantial health benefits and healthcare cost savings at a population level,” Ms Ananthapavan explained.

With approximately 70% of WA residents overweight or obese, it’s estimated that by 2026 ill health from elevated body mass index will cost the WA Government up to $610.1m each year in inpatient hospital costs if no action is taken to slow the rising prevalence.

‘Like other mass media campaigns, the WA LiveLighter® program has substantial upfront costs, however it reaches a wide audience and has significant benefits,’ Ms Ananthapavan said.

‘It’s estimated these health benefits would result in healthcare cost savings of approximately $3.2m over the lifetime of the modelled population, which is substantially more than the cost of running the LiveLighter® campaign for one year at $2.46m.

‘Despite the health and economic burden associated with preventable disease, current spending on preventive health is very low – only approximately 1.34% of the health budget. Governments need to not only increase spending on prevention, but also prioritise policies that have good evidence that they offer value for money.

‘Australia’s alarming rates of overweight and obesity can only be addressed by multiple interventions implemented simultaneously, and this report shows that effective mass media campaigns such as LiveLighter® should be a key component of a comprehensive strategy.’

PHAA CEO Terry Slevin welcomed the study’s findings.

“With the National Obesity Strategy due to be considered by Health Ministers this year and the National Preventive Health Strategy being finalised, this report is timely and confirms that ong

oing funding for mass media campaigns aimed to encourage healthy behaviours should be included as a key intervention of a multi-component obesity prevention strategy,” Mr Slevin said.

‘The Preventive Health conference in Perth this week is showcasing some of the most innovative and evidence-based approaches to preventive health policy that governments can use to improve Australia’s health and wellbeing, and this study demonstrates how cost-effective these approaches can be,’ he said.

Read the full report here.