Obesity Isn't Cheap: Global Cost Comes in at $2 Trillion

Global costs for obesity hovers around two trillion a year, according to a new report from the McKinsey Global Institute.

According to the group, this places obesity third among the world's top man-made social burdens, but just barely. The global management consulting firm declared smoking the most-costly drains on society, costing $2.1 trillion each year. Armed violence, war and terrorism took third place in the study, at costs still rounded off to $2.1 trillion. Alcoholism took a distant fourth place, with estimated costs of $1.4 trillion every 12 months. That two trillion dollar cost is equal to about 2.8 percent of the global gross domestic product (GDP).

Over 30 percent of the global population - 2.1 billion people - are either overweight or obese. The condition is responsible for five percent of all deaths. The percentage of people who weigh more than healthy levels is rising. At current growth levels, nearly half of the people worldwide will weigh too much within 15 years.

"No individual sector in society can address obesity on its own-not governments, retailers, consumer-goods companies, restaurants, employers, media organizations, educators, healthcare providers, or individuals. Capturing the full potential impact requires engagement from as many sectors as possible," McKinsey & Company reported in a statement announcing the study.

Overcoming obesity: An initial economic analysis calls for a wide range of actions to combat obesity, even in light of debate over which actions should be implemented.

Among these are calls to reduce default portion sizes in restaurants, redesigning urban areas and educational facilities to encourage physical exercise, and altering marketing regulations. The group concluded that a combination of legal changes and grass-roots community action will be needed to successfully reduce the prevalence of obesity around the world. The report also notes that industries who develop new products and services will be taking financial risks, which the group concludes should be mitigated by outside organizations.

Several methods should be employed together in order to battle the problem, according to the study. These methods should not be prioritized, the group argues, since that could hinder successful programs.

"The evidence base on the clinical and behavioral interventions to reduce obesity is far from complete, and ongoing investment in research is imperative. However, in many cases this is proving a barrier to action. It need not be so. We should experiment with solutions and try them out rather than waiting for perfect proof of what works, especially in the many areas where interventions are low risk," McKinsey & Company wrote in the full report. 

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