There is a new report from the McKinsey Global Institute that puts the current obesity epidemic into perspective and should make us all pause when we consider that:

  • More than 2.1 billion people — or about 30% of the world’s population — are overweight or obese.  Put another way, there are 2.5 times more overweight/obese people than there are undernourished people in this world.
  • The problem is getting worse.  By 2030 (16 years from now), about half (50%) will be overweight or obese.
  • The global economic cost of obesity according to this world economic research group:  2 trillion dollars annually.
  • Only tobacco smoke ($2.1 trillion) and armed violence (guns mostly), war, and terrorism ($2.1 trillion) have greater economic impacts than obesity.


The American contribution to this number is significant:

In addition to its serious health consequences, obesity has real economic costs that affect all of us. The estimated annual health care costs of obesity-related illness are a staggering $190.2 billion or nearly 21% of annual medical spending in the United States. Childhood obesity alone is responsible for $14 billion in direct medical costs. Obesity-related medical costs in general are expected to rise significantly, especially because today’s obese children are likely to become tomorrow’s obese adults. If obesity rates were to remain at 2010 levels, the projected savings for medical expenditures would be $549.5 billion over the next two decades.


Danica Kirka emphasizes the message that a unified global effort will be needed to improve both the physical and economic health that obesity threatens:

“Obesity isn’t just a health issue,” one of the report’s authors, Richard Dobbs, said in a podcast. “But it’s a major economic and business challenge.”

The company says 2.1 billion people — about 30 percent of the global population— are overweight or obese and that about 15 percent of health care costs in developed economies are driven by it.

In emerging markets, as countries get richer, the rate of obesity rises to the same level as that found in more developed countries. The report offers the stark prediction that nearly half the world’s adult population will be overweight or obese by 2030 should present trends continue.

“We are on an unfortunate trajectory,” Dobbs told The Associated Press. “We have to act.”

The report’s authors argue that efforts to deal with obesity have been piecemeal until now, and that a systemic response is needed.

McKinsey says there’s no single or simple solution to the problem, but global disagreement on how to move forward is hurting progress. The analysis is meant to offer a starting point on the elements of a possible strategy.


The Economist takes a look at what a possible global strategy might look like:

The interventions range from nudges (making healthy eating choices easier) to shoves (taking poor eating choices away). The most effective would force food producers and restaurants to make servings smaller and limit fatty ingredients (see chart). Others are less paternalistic, such as having grocery stores promote healthy products instead of sugary ones. But leaving it to individuals to slim down through dieting and exercise without any such help, MGI concludes, consistently fails.


This is another situation where, despite dubious benefits (of, say, having the freedom to eat whatever you please without anyone — especially the government — telling you otherwise), we all bear the very high costs of lives and money lost.  Consider it a high tax that everyone pays to maintain the freedom not to make changes that benefit nearly everyone.  That seems to be — these days, anyway — the American way.