Few nations consider obesity a threat that needs urgent attention. But as per a McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) study, obesity has a global economic burden that, at $2 trillion a year, exceeds alcoholism and is near that of smoking and armed violence, war and terrorism. And that’s not including the associated healthcare burden from heart attacks and lifestyle conditions like type-2 diabetes, which, some estimate to be around 20% of all healthcare costs incurred.
Compounding the problem is the advance of obesity globally in the last few years—given the current rate, MGI estimates, nearly half the world adult population would be obese by 2030. Now, the problems stemming from obesity go beyond just the direct health costs. Obesity is also understood to have a negative impact on productivity of workers, thereby reducing employing firms’ competitiveness. One of the reasons why it hasn’t been addressed at a health policy level is the sensitivity of the issue itself with many societies quick to label genuine concerns over weight issues as “fat-shaming”. That aside, MGI researchers analysed 74 obesity-control interventions in 18 areas—including public health campaigns, standardised school meals funded through public money, nutrient labelling and advertising restrictions on high-calorie food—and found that 44 interventions that could be measured for impact if mounted nationally could bring down the incidence of obesity by 20% in the UK, the country where MGI piloted its assessment research. There are a slew of interventions that the MGI believes could help tackle the problem, but as its report notes, everything will have to begin with countries recognising it as a pressing issue and societies reorienting their perspective on combating obesity.