23.10.2019 |

Rising levels of obesity place a heavy burden on OECD countries

Obesity, a heavy burden (Photo: CC0)

More than half the population is overweight in most OECD countries, with almost one in four people being obese. Obesity-related diseases will claim more than 90 million lives in OECD countries in the next 30 years and reduce life expectancy by nearly 3 years. These figures were published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in a report released on October 10th. According to “The Heavy Burden of Obesity – The Economics of Prevention”, poor diets, lack of physical activity and sedentary behaviour have contributed to the obesity epidemic. The report warns that overweight and obesity are on the rise. Almost 60% of people are overweight in OECD countries. Average rates of adult obesity in OECD countries have increased from 21% in 2010 to 24% in 2016, meaning an additional 50 million people are now obese. Figures are even higher in some countries. The United Kingdom, for example, has one of the highest rates of obesity: nearly one in three adults are obese. The situation is even worse in countries such as Saudi Arabia, the United States or Mexico. The authors warn that obesity places a heavy burden on individuals, society and the economy.

Over the next 30 years, overweight is projected to result in 462 million new cases of cardiovascular disease in 52 countries, and 212 million cases of diabetes, among other diseases. As a result, life expectancy in OECD countries will be reduced by 2.7 years on average. Mexicans will live 4.2 years less due to overweight, the largest reductions in life expectancy of all countries analysed. Over the next thirty years, OECD countries will have to spend 8.4% of their health budget to treat the consequences of overweight. Overweight also negatively impacts educational outcomes: “Children who are overweight do less well at school, are more likely to miss school, and, when they grow up, are less likely to complete higher education. They also show lower life satisfaction and are up to three times more likely to be bullied, which in turn may contribute to lower school performance,” OECD warns. But overweight also reduces employment and workers’ productivity. The impact is considered equivalent to a reduction in the workforce of 54 million people per year across the 52 countries covered in the report. Overall, overweight reduces the gross domestic product (GDP) by 3.3%.

The report shows that there is a wide range of policy options which, if properly implemented, can reduce the prevalence of obesity and improve the economy. “There is an urgent economic and social case to scale up investments to tackle obesity and promote healthy lifestyles,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría. “These findings clearly illustrate the need for better social, health and education policies that lead to better lives.” The report finds that initiatives targeting the whole population, such as food and menus displaying nutritional information and mass media campaigns, could lead to gains of between 51,000 to 115,000 life years per year up to 2050 in the 36 countries included in the analysis. Achieving a 20% reduction in calorie content in energy-dense food, such as crisps and confectionery, would have a significant positive effect: This could avoid more than 1 million cases of chronic disease per year, especially heart disease, and would save 13.2 billion US dollars each year due to reduced healthcare expenditure for the 42 countries included in the analysis. In general, for each dollar invested in prevention policies, countries will see a return of up to 6 dollars, according to the report. “By investing in prevention, policymakers can halt the rise in obesity for future generations, and benefit economies. There is no more excuse for inaction,” Angel Gurría concludes. (ab)

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