Predictions and Solutions for a Global Obesity Epidemic

In October 2019, the World Obesity Federation published a report predicting an increase in obesity in children over the next ten years. The alarming report speculates that by 2030, over 250 million children worldwide will be obese.

Currently, there are approximately 158 million children (aged between five and 19) considered obese. By 2025, this number is expected to climb to 206 million, and exceed 250 million in 2030.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the United States (17 million) is included in the top three nations forecasted to be most affected by this epidemic; however, of interest is the prediction that alongside the U.S., China (62 million) and India 27 million) are expected to have the highest number of obese children by 2030. As emerging nations adapt traditional diets (or eschew them completely) in face of 'modern' processed-food, their children face an escalating risk of obesity. Combined with a global increase in sedentary activity and forms of entertainment, the rise of childhood obesity presents an alarming danger that requires swift action. Childhood obesity will overwhelm the health services of many countries.

Obesity itself has already manifested as a significant strain on health care systems globally. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development separately released a new 252-page report on the burden of obesity. The report assesses the burden of obesity and overweight in 52 countries (including OECD, European Union and G20 countries), showing how obesity effects life expectancy, healthcare costs, workers' productivity and GDP.

On average, treating the diseases caused by obesity costs an average of 8.4% of total health care spending in OECD countries. The U.S. spends the most money battling the bulge. Obesity is expected to cost Americans $644 per capita on average annually from 2020 to 2050 - 14% of total U.S. health expenditure.

This is the second OECD publication on obesity in the past decade, and obesity has continued to be a pressing public health issue. The report notes almost one in four people in OECD countries are currently obese. And, in the vast majority of OECD member countries, more than half of the population is now overweight.

The report makes an urgent economic case to scale up investments in policies to promote healthy lifestyles to tackle this growing global public-health crisis. Preventative strategies such as changes to portion, marketing restrictions, and labelling are seen as key ways to combat the anticipated rise in obesity rates.

“Every dollar spent on preventing obesity generates an economic return of up to six dollars”

The OECD suggests that any negative fiscal implications for commercial industries could be mitigated by a strategic approach to policy, including subsidies for the promotion of healthy products. These changes would see a shift in revenue streams rather than their total deterioration. The OECD speculates for every U.S. dollar invested in tackling obesity, up to 5.6 dollars will be returned in economic benefits.