Annual costs of rising overweight and obesity rates estimated at US$2.2 trillion

A study has predicted that US$2.2 trillion could be saved annually if overweight and obesity (OAO) prevalence remained at 2019 levels. The study, ‘Economic impacts of overweight and obesity: current and future estimates for 161 countries’, analysed the current economic impact of overweight and obesity in 161 countries. It provides the first-ever country-specific global estimate of the economic impacts of the non-communicable disease (NCD), mainly due to avoidable healthcare costs of cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease attributable to obesity.

The impact to GDP is projected to increase as a result of the rising prevalence of obesity, population changes and economic growth. The study also found a 5% reduction in the projected prevalence of the NCD between 2020 and 2060 would result in an average of US$429 billion in global annual savings.

The countries expected to have the largest economic cost of overweight and obesity are China, the United States and India. It is predicted to cost China over US$10 trillion, the United States over US$2.5 trillion and India nearly US$850 billion. Other countries with the economic costs of overweight and obesity projected to exceed US$100 billion include Germany, Canada, Australia, Brazil, the UK and Japan. Of all those countries, it is expected to cost the United Arab Emirates the highest proportion of GDP (11.04%).

“These estimates of the economic impact of overweight and obesity should alarm governments across the world. The persistent stigmatisation of people living with obesity and policies that do not reflect the most recent evidence have led to failing approaches that ignore obesity’s root causes,” said Johanna Ralston, CEO, World Obesity Federation. “This study has highlighted the need for urgent, concerted and holistic action to address the global rise in overweight and obesity prevalence. We can alter this through the right policy and private sector attention to reduce factors in the environment that can cause the non-communicable disease. Doing so will help to boost the wellbeing of people, provide economic gains and improve resilience to disease outbreaks.”

The researchers estimated the current and future national economic impacts of OAO globally in 161 countries by using a cost-of-illness approach. Direct and indirect costs of OAO between 2019 and 2060 were estimated from a societal perspective. They then assessed the effect of two hypothetical scenarios of OAO prevalence projections. Country-specific data were sourced from published studies and global databases.

“We shouldn’t be surprised about the projected increases in obesity when we contemplate the many factors that make it hard for people to lead healthy lives,” added Dr Rachel Nugent, Vice President for Global Noncommunicable Diseases at RTI International. “The take-home lesson from this research is that countries and companies have strong economic incentives to help people and workers be healthy and avoid the high costs of obesity-related diseases.”

The economic impact of OAO in 2019 is estimated at 2.19% of global gross domestic product (GDP) ranging on average from US$20 per capita in Africa to US$872 per capita in the Americas and from US$6 in low-income countries to US$1,110 in high-income countries (HICs).

They reported that if current trends continue, by 2060, the economic impacts from OAO are projected to rise to 3.29% of GDP globally. The biggest increase will be concentrated in lower resource countries with total economic costs increasing by fourfold between 2019 and 2060 in HICs, whereas they increase 12–25 times in low and middle-income countries. Reducing projected OAO prevalence by 5% annually from current trends or keeping it at 2019 levels will translate into average annual reductions of US$429 billion or US$2201 billion in costs, respectively, between 2020 and 2060 globally.

“The findings of this study highlight the need for urgent, concerted and holistic action to address the global rise in OAO prevalence. Such actions could help avert the significant risks of inaction and to achieve the potential promise of whole-of-society gains in population well-being, including reduced mortality, economic gains and improved resilience to disease outbreaks,” the paper concluded. “These findings also provide crucial evidence that can be used as an important advocacy tool for shifting the narrative from personal responsibility to increased systemic investments and integrated approaches to addressing this global public health challenge.”

Further information

To access the paper, please click here