Healthier, but not cheaper

Chris Auld debunks the notion that encouraging healthier lifestyles will decrease public health care costs.

The evidence suggests that unhealthy lifestyles tend to increase health care use at any given age and reduce life expectancy, so more is spent per year but for fewer years. For example, statistical estimates from a well-known 1997 paper are displayed in the graph. The lower two lines show that if we compare a smoker and a non-smoker who are the same age, we should expect to find that the smoker consumes more health care. But the top two lines show that health care costs for non-smokers eventually become much higher than those for smokers simply because smokers on average die sooner than non-smokers. This study estimated that if every smoker were to spontaneously quit, demand on the health care system would first fall, as the quitters become healthier than they otherwise would be, but eventually rise by 7 per cent in the long run as smokers live longer.

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