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Global economic impact of obesity hits $2 trillion annually

Global economic impact of  obesity hits $2 trillion annually

In recent times, obesity, which is a chronic non-communicable disease with clinical and public health challenge, has emerged a critical global issue that requires a comprehensive, international intervention strategy. With more than 2.1 billion people currently overweight/obese, its global economic impact amounts to roughly $2 trillion annually (2.8 percent of global GDP)-nearly equivalent to of smoking or of armed violence, war, and terrorism.

This revelation, contained in a McKinsey Global Institute report titled ‘Overcoming obesity: An initial economic analysis’ pointed out that the toll of obesity on health-care systems alone is between 2 and 7 percent of all healthcare spending in developed economies. This is exclusive of the large cost of treating associated diseases, which takes healthcare cost toll up to 20 percent by some estimates.

This comes as obesity which has associated co-morbidities such as diabetes mellitus, hypertension, degenerative osteoarthritis and infertility is showing an upward trend in most developing countries and Nigeria is not an exception, as productivity is threatened by this health condition.

The report pointed out that education and encouraging personal responsibility are necessary but not sufficient as restructuring the context that shapes physical activity and nutritional behaviour is a vital part of any obesity program.

“Obesity is one of the top three global social burdens generated by human beings. If the prevalence of obesity continues on its current trajectory, almost half of the world’s adult population will be overweight or obese by 2030,” the report stated.

Read also: WHO says childhood obesity on marketing of sugar-rich beverages

However, additional interventions need to be in the mix that rely less on conscious choices by individuals and individual responsibility and more on changes to the environment and societal norms. These interventions reset the default and make healthy behaviour easier and more normal, thereby relying less on individual willpower. Examples include reducing portion sizes of packaged foods and fast food, changing marketing practices, and changing physical activity curricula in schools.

“Capturing the full potential impact is likely to require commitment from government, employers, educators, retailers, restaurants, and food and beverage manufacturers, and a combination of top-down corporate and government interventions and bottom-up community-based ones” the report added.

Adetola Ogunbode, consultant family physician, University College Hospital, Ibadan, explained that though obesity results when the body’s intake is greater than output over a period of time due to a sedentary lifestyle, dietary factors and physical activity patterns play a strong role in obesity.

Ogunbode noted that this health condition is positively associated with dietary factors such as increased fat intake, low fiber consumption, increased hidden sugars in prepared foods, reduced amounts of unrefined sugars, and inadequate fruit and vegetable intake.

According to Ogunbode “A normal Body Mass Index (BMI) ranges between 18.5 and 24.9 kg/m2. A BMI greater than or equal to 25 kg/m2 is overweight and obesity is defined as having a BMI of 30kg/m2 or more. Negotiating change in lifestyle is possible by encouraging sedentary people to increase their activity levels.

“As with all lifestyle interventions, the patients must want to change if they are to alter their lifestyle. Obesity, like other emerging diseases requires more systematic investigation to establish facts on it in developing countries, especially in view of its increasing importance globally.”

A peep into obesity in Nigeria shows that the disease is assuming an increasing importance among adult Nigerians. The lifestyles and behavioural patterns of adult Nigerians are changing rapidly and these being favourable to the looming epidemics of obesity and its associated co-morbidities

Obesity have a significant economic impact on health systems and the medical costs associated with the disease having both direct (preventive, diagnostic, and treatment services related to obesity ) and indirect costs (loss of income from decreased productivity, restricted activity, absenteeism, and bed days and the income lost by premature death).

Alexander Chiejina