Worldwide anti-obesity strategies focus on the bottom line

The financial burden of obesity is the focus of new research.About 2.1 billion people are affected by the obesity epidemic and rates are soaring, says a recent study by the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI).

This is 30 per cent of the global population, and nearly two-and-a-half times the 840 million people who don’t have enough to eat.

The institute’s study focuses on the worldwide economic costs of obesity, which have risen to US$2 trillion annually. This is the same monetary impact as armed conflict, and slightly less than the costs incurred by smoking.

It is about 2.8 per cent of economic activity worldwide, which adds up to 2 to 7 per cent of the health care budget in developed countries.

But only 0.25 per cent of the total cost of obesity is used for prevention strategies, while the rest is used for dealing with the consequences.

The report’s estimate of the economic toll from obesity includes lost productivity (nearly 70 per cent of the total costs), health care usage, and the investment needed to combat obesity.

Obesity in North Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East are at the same level as Europe, and the problem is becoming steadily more prevalent in South Asia and East Asia.

Australia’s getting bigger

Australia’s obesity rates are increasing faster than the rest of the world with a quarter of our children being overweight. The Australian Heart Foundation says more than a third of Australian adults are overweight.

Compared to non-indigenous people, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are 1.7 times more likely to be obese and men 1.4 times more likely.

The Federal Government’s Australian National Preventive Health Agency says the economic cost of overweight adults is about $21 billion, plus $35.6 billion in government subsidies.

The agency says the direct and indirect costs of obesity was $37.7 billion and the direct financial cost was $7.7 billion.

National research showed the biggest risk factors for gaining weight are stress (especially financial worries), lack of access to green spaces and healthy food, and poor sleep.


The McKinsey Global Institute warns we cannot wait for conclusive data on the effectiveness of preventative strategies, such as taxing sugar-filled drinks, as there needs to be an “aggressive all-hands-on-deck approach” because the cost of failing is too high.

It suggests successful small-scale experiments should be quickly scaled up to improve public health.

The institute advised that a major shift needs to occur in the way the food business sector advertises its products. It says it’s important that new research is conducted, as losing weight is not easy, particularly for people living in obesogenic environments that encourage unhealthy eating choices and minimise the opportunities for exercise.

It predicts that if we do not find solutions, almost half the adult world will be overweight or obese by 2030.


World Health Organisation, Obesity and overweight,

An, M., Wolf, A., ‘McKinsey global institute releases economic analysis on overcoming obesity’, DiaTribe

McKinsey Global Institute, Overcoming obesity: an initial economic analysis,

Dobbs, R., Sawers, C., ‘Obesity: A global economic issue’, VOX CEPR’s Policy Portal,

Modi, Obesity in Australia, Monash University,

Heart Foundation, Factsheet: Overweight and obesity statistics

The Boden Institute of Obesity, Nutrition, Exercise & Eating Disorders and the Menzies Centre for Health Policy, University of Sydney, Obesity: Prevalence and trends in Australia

Magazine Monitor, ‘What is an obesogenic environment?’, BBC News

Dobbs, R., Sawers C., Thompson, F., Manyika, J., Woetzel, J., Child, P., McKenna S., Spatharou, A., ‘How the world could better fight obesity’, McKinsey & Company

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