In fact, almost 80% of children in low-income countries suffer from overweight or obesity
Washington, February 16, 2020
Obesity is one of the most known risk factors to non communicable diseases and a disease in itself. A new World Bank report “Obesity: Health and Economic Consequences of an Impending Global Challenge“ sheds light on the growing obesity epidemic and its negative impacts.
This report lays out why overweight and obesity are an impending global challenge, especially for poor people and those who live in low- or middle-income countries, dispelling the myth that it is a problem only in high-income countries and urban areas. It also provides many of the current trends concerning overweight and obesity.
Recent data show that since 1975 obesity has nearly tripled and it now accounts for four million deaths worldwide every year. In 2016, over 2 billion adults (44 percent) were overweight or obese, and more than 70 percent of these live in low- or middle-income countries.
The factors fuelling the obesity epidemic are largely caused by behaviours and the environments we live in. These include: easier access to ultra-processed and sugary foods; a decline in physical activity linked to technological advances in the labor force and at home; and greater consumption of unhealthy foods often linked to an increase in wealth and income.
Exposure to environmental risks, such as air pollution, and constrained access to basic services also contribute significantly to the epidemic.
Annette Dixon, Vice President for Human Development at the World Bank, said that reducing overweight and obesity is a global public good.
“Proactively addressing this issue will contribute significantly to building human capital, ensuring higher economic growth, and sustaining a workforce that is healthy and prepared for a productive future,” she said.
Costs and impacts
For example, in China, between 2000 and 2009, healthcare costs associated with obesity grew from half a percent to more than 3% of China’s annual healthcare expenditure.
In Brazil, obesity-related health care costs are expected to double, from less than US$6 billion in 2010 to more than US$10 billion in 2050.
It is not only the healthcare costs, but also the indirect costs due to reduced work productivity, absenteeism, early retirement and others that the society and individuals will have to bear.
For example, one study estimated an increase of the ‘indirect costs’ of overweight/obesity in China from 3.6% of GNP in 2000 to 8.7% of GNP in 2025.
Research shows that investments today in cost-effective interventions could save 8.2 million lives in poorer countries and generate US$350 billion in economic benefits by 2030.
This is equivalent to a return of US$7 per person for every dollar invested.
Adjusting to demographic changes
Many countries across the globe are now suffering from what is referred to as the “double burden of malnutrition”—high rates of child stunting and rapidly increasing obesity rates, further compromising their human capital.
This double burden translates into changes in family structures, as family members, particularly women, become the de facto care-givers for older adults.
In addition, poor people experience a greater share of the problem as they are more vulnerable to health and economic shocks.
As countries experience economic growth and food system changes, so does the temptation of people to consume unhealthy foods and exercise less.
“Reducing overweight and obesity is a global public good. Proactively addressing this issue will contribute significantly to building human capital, ensuring higher economic growth, and sustaining a workforce that is healthy and prepared for a productive future.”
Source: World Bank