Thursday. 30.03.2023

The high price of overweight and obesity

According to OECD, overweight and obesity are reducing GDP and raising health care costs, in addition to damaging the personal development of millions of people in developed countries. Treating the diseases caused by overweight costs around 383 billion euros a year.


Obesity-related diseases will claim more than 90 million lives in developed countries in the next 30 years, with life expectancy reduced by nearly 3 years. Obesity and its related conditions also reduce Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 3.3% and exact a heavy toll on personal budgets, amounting to 360 US dollars (326 euros) per capita per year,

Those are the harsh conclusions of a recently published report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a club formed by 36 most developed economies in the world.

The study, called 'The Heavy Burden of Obesity-The Economics of Prevention' analyses the economical, social and health costs of overweight in 52 countries, including OECD, European Union and the Group of 20 (G20).

According to data collected, 58% of the population is currently overweight in 34 out of 36 OECD countries and almost one in four people is obese. 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.


Overweight rates even higher in Finland

Finland is not an exception to that trend. The Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) also published last month the study 'The FinHealth 2017', which warned that obesity is becoming "increasingly prevalent" in the country "particularly among working age people".

"Among over 30-year-old Finns, only one in four are of normal weight", the institute remarked.

The study revealed that in Finland 72% of men and 63% of women over 30 years of age are at least overweight and 26% of men and 28% of women are obese.

The human price of obesity

The OECD now remarks that children in particular are paying a high price for obesity. Because, according to its conclusions, 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.

"Children with a healthy weight are 13% more likely to report good school performances than children with obesity", the study says.

In adulthood, obese people are less likely to be employed and when they have a job are more likely to be absent or less productive. They are also at a greater risk of suffering chronic diseases and reduced life expectancy. In this sense, the club of the rich countries says that from 2020 to 2050 overweight related diseases will reduce life expectancy by 3 years in OECD, EU28 and G20 countries.

Economic damage

But overweight and obesity not only damage health. A rise in the number of people with high body-mass index (BMI) -a measure of whether someone is overweight or underweight base on weight and height- is also "squeezing healthcare budgets due to the high cost of chronic diseases" linked to overweight, such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease.

OECD countries spend about 8.4% of their health budgets in treating overweight-related diseases.

According to OECD's analysis, this is because overweight people use health care services more, undergo more surgery and have more than twice as many prescriptions compared to people with a healthy weight. On average in OECD countries, overweight is responsible for 70% of all treatment costs for diabetes, 23% of costs for cardiovascular diseases and 9% for cancers.

The OECD estimates that treating the diseases caused by overweight costs 423 billion US dollars a year (around 383 billion euros a year).

Tackling overweight

"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. By investing in prevention, policymakers can halt the rise in obesity for future generations, and benefit economies. There is no more excuse for inaction," stressed Gurría.

OECD's analysis finds that investing in initiatives like better labeling of food in shops or regulating the advertising of unhealthy foods to children can generate major savings. Every dollar invested in preventing obesity would generate an economic return of up to six dollars, according to the report.

Reducing by 20% the calorie content in energy-dense food, such as crisps and confectionery, could avoid more than 1 million cases of chronic disease per year, particularly heart disease.

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. This would be equivalent to preventing all road deaths in EU28 and OECD countries respectively. Economic savings would also be significant, with menu labeling alone saving up to USD 13 billion (11.7 billion euros) between 2020 and 2050.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has set an international target for halting the rise in obesity rates and type 2 diabetes by 2025.

If you want to read the full report 'The heavy burden of obesity - The economics of prevention', you can access to it HERE


The high price of overweight and obesity