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Carrington College Blog

Global obesity epidemic costs $2 trillion annually

November 28, 2014

Obesity has become a global economic problem.According to a new report published by the McKinsey Global Institute, obesity affects 2.1 billion people- nearly 30 percent of the global population – and has a cost of more than $2 trillion annually worldwide.1

McKinsey ranks obesity as one of the top three social burdens generated by human beings, falling right behind the categories of smoking and armed violence, war and terrorism, which each cost $2.1 trillion on a global scale.

For professionals in the health care industry, these numbers should be extremely alarming, considering obesity can lead to a wide range of health problems including cardiovascular disease and diabetes. What’s more, obesity takes a particularly large toll in the U.S., with recent research from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health attributing obesity as the cause of more than $8 billion in absenteeism in the workplace.2

Moreover, McKinsey anticipates that obesity is only a growing problem, and predicts half of the world’s adult population will be overweight or obese by the year 2030.

The McKinsey discussion paper

The report by McKinsey, titled “Overcoming obesity: An initial economic analysis,” notes that while human beings have made tremendous advancements in medicine, obesity appears to be a growing concern that has broad spectrum consequences.

While scientists around the globe continue to find better solutions to fighting infectious diseases and creating life-saving vaccines, obesity continues to cause non-communicable diseases and chronic health issues. Researchers at McKinsey attribute this societal trend to numerous factors including sedentary lifestyle and easy access to food.

One of the major challenges of fighting obesity is that expanding waistlines are not only extremely prevalent, but also affect populations all across the globe. The McKinsey discussion paper highlights that today obesity is already responsible for about 5 percent of deaths worldwide.

Fighting obesity requires ubiquitous, consistent measures. For populations to roll out effective health programs to fight obesity, they will have to invest in educational and environmental measures, according to McKinsey, as well as emphasize personal responsibility. Of course, another area of research is pharmacy technology.

The pharmaceuticals industry has developed some drugs to address obesity, however, weight loss supplements and drugs should not be a sole source of weight management. Therefore, stronger societal measures must be taken to encourage populations to eat healthier and develop regular exercise regimens.

This proves an immense challenge considering there doesn’t appear to be an obvious solution to this epidemic. The McKinsey discussion paper notes:

“Almost everyone reading this discussion paper will disagree with some parts of it. That is because much of the global debate on obesity has become polarized and sometimes deeply antagonistic. But, even more importantly, disagreement about the way forward reflects the fact that obesity is a complex, systemic issue with no single or simple solution, and the fact that there is currently a lack of integrated assessments of those potential solutions.”

To make any type of major impact on this global trend, the task of implementing societal change will assuredly have to be spearheaded by policymakers, health care professionals and pedestrians worldwide. Furthermore, the McKinsey discussion paper is only one insight into this omnipresent issue. Numerous factors contribute to obesity, including genetics and diets that vary by geography, so there is still much more to be considered in the overall equation.

What can be said is that the research from MGI, along with studies from other organizations around the world, are illuminating the widespread social and economic consequences of the global obesity epidemic. It is becoming clear that fighting obesity will take tremendous measures executed on an international scale.

“How the world could better fight obesity,” by Richard Dobbs, Corinne Sawers, Fraser Thompson, James Manyika, Jonathan Woetzel, Peter Child, Sorcha McKenna, and Angela Spatharou, McKinsey Global Institute, November 2014.

2 “Obesity-attributable absenteeism among US workers costs the nation more than $8 billion annually,” by Tatiana Andreyeva and Joerg Luedicke, National Cancer Institute, Nov. 21, 2014.

“Overcoming obesity: An initial economic analysis,” by Richard Dobbs, Corinne Sawers, Fraser Thompson, James Manyika, Jonathan Woetzel, Peter Child, Sorcha McKenna and Angela Spatharou, McKinsey Global Institute, November 2014. PDF