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article imagePeople in OECD countries becoming fatter by the day

By Subir Ghosh     Sep 26, 2010 in Health
People in OECD countries are becoming fatter by the day. One in two people is now overweight or obese in almost half of OECD countries. Rates are projected to increase further and in some countries two out of three people will be obese within ten years.
The findings are from a new report of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) which examines the current obesity epidemic, giving new comparative data, trends and projections across OECD countries and outlining causes and costs. It also notes ways in which the private sector and governments encouraged obesity and makes recommendations for ways they can contribute to combating it.
According to the report titled 'Obesity and the Economics of Prevention: Fit not Fat', obesity has been spreading at an alarming rate since the 1980s. Changes in food supply and eating habits, combined with a dramatic fall in physical activity, have made obesity a global epidemic. Across OECD countries, one in two adults is currently overweight and one in six is obese. The rate of overweight people is projected to increase by a further 1 percent per year for the next 10 years in some countries. Rates are highest in the US and Mexico, and lowest in Japan and Korea. Even one in three children is currently overweight.
Women are more often obese than men, but male obesity rates have been growing faster than female rates in most OECD countries. Obesity is more common among the poor and the less educated. In several countries, women with little education are 2-3 times more likely to be overweight than more educated women, but smaller or no disparities exist for men.
“Food is much cheaper than in the past, in particular food that is not particularly healthy, and people are changing their lifestyles, they have less time to prepare meals and are eating out more in restaurants,” said Franco Sassi, study author and OECD senior health economist.
Paris-based OECD is better known as an economic group that creates forecasts about economic issues rather than health concerns, but the economic factor of obesity is a growing problem encountered by many governments around the world. Health ministers of OECD countries will be discussing the report when they meet at the OECD October 7–8, 2010.
The report presents for the first time analyses and comparisons of the most detailed data on obesity available from 11 OECD countries. It includes a unique analysis of the health and economic impact of a range of interventions to tackle obesity in five countries, carried out jointly by the OECD and the World Health Organization (WHO).
Among the other major findings:
* An obese person incurs 25 percent higher health expenditures than a person of normal weight in any given year. Obesity is responsible for 1-3 percent of total health expenditures in most OECD countries (5-10 percent in the United States).
* A severely obese person is likely to die 8-10 years earlier than a person of normal weight.
* Poorly educated women are 2-3 times more likely to be overweight than those with high levels of education, but almost no disparities are found for men.
* Obese people earn up to 18 percent less than non-obese people.
* Children who have at least one obese parent are 3-4 times more likely to be obese.
* A comprehensive prevention strategy would avoid, every year, 155000 deaths from chronic diseases in Japan, 75000 in Italy, 70000 in England, 55000 in Mexico, and 40000 in Canada.
* The annual cost of such strategy would be US$ 12 per capita in Mexico, US$ 19 in Japan and England, US$ 22 in Italy and US$ 32 in Canada. The cost per life year gained through prevention is less than US$ 20,000 in these five countries.
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