Obesity costs $2 trillion globally

A new study found obesity’s global economic impact is about $2 trillion – nearly as much as smoking.

A research paper by McKinsey Global Institute concludes more than 2.1 billion people worldwide – nearly 30 percent of the global population – are overweight or obese. If the growth rate and prevalence continue as they are, the institute estimates about 41 percent of the world’s population will be overweight or obese by 2030.

That, according to the institute, comes with “huge personal, social and economic costs.”

Obesity is responsible for about 5 percent of all global deaths and has roughly the same annual economic impact as smoking or armed conflict – both of which have a $2.1 trillion impact.

The economic impact of obesity is higher than alcoholism ($1.4 trillion), illiteracy ($1.3 trillion), climate change ($1 trillion), drug use ($700 billion) and road accidents ($700 billion).

The toll of obesity on health care systems alone is between 2 and 7 percent of all health care spending in developed economies, according to the research paper. That doesn’t include the cost of treated associated diseases, which can push the toll up to 20 percent.

The researchers concluded no single solution creates a sufficient impact to reverse obesity. “Only a comprehensive, systemic program of multiple interventions is likely to be effective,” they said

The researchers studied 74 interventions to address obesity in 18 areas that are being discussed or piloted somewhere in the world. Of the 74 interventions, they were able to gather evidence to estimate the potential cost and impact of 44 interventions.

Studied interventions included portion control, reformulation, high calorie food and drink availability, school curriculum, price promotions, parental education, labeling and public health campaigns..

If the United Kingdom were to deploy all of those 44 interventions, the researchers found it could reverse rising obesity and bring about 20 percent of overweight and obese people back into the normal weight category within five to 10 years.

The economic benefit of such a program would be about $25 billion per year.

Marissa Harshman

Marissa Harshman

I'm the health reporter for The Columbian newspaper in Vancouver, Wash. I started at The Columbian -- my hometown newspaper -- in September 2009. Reach me at marissa.harshman@columbian.com or 360-735-4546.

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