obesity: The economic implications of obesity are significant, both on an individual and societal level. Just as malnutrition is easily noticeable among the impoverished, obesity serves as an indicator of the price individuals pay for their health.
The World Obesity Federation, in partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO), conducted a study that predicts a rise in global obesity rates by 2035, with more than half of the world’s population being overweight or obese.
The study also estimates that the economic impact of a higher body mass index (BMI) could reach a staggering $4.32 trillion annually if current trends continue and no policy interventions are implemented.
This translates to approximately 3 percent of global GDP, comparable to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
Furthermore, another study suggests that the prevalence of obesity and overweight individuals will likely cost the global economy 3.3 percent of GDP by 2060. Notably, there has been no decline in obesity rates in any country since 1975, highlighting the urgency of addressing this issue.
The study also reveals that medical costs account for the majority of direct taxes (99.8 percent) globally, while premature death contributes to a significant 69.1 percent of all indirect costs. Interestingly, indirect costs have a more substantial impact on GDP than direct costs.
Childhood obesity is also a concerning aspect of this epidemic. More adolescents are entering adulthood with established risk factors for chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, orthopedic problems, sleep apnea, and fatty liver disease.
In India, there has been a significant increase in obesity rates in recent decades. According to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS), the proportion of obese or overweight men has risen from 9.3 percent in 2006 to 22.9 percent in 2021. Similarly, for women, the increase has been from 12.6 percent to 24 percent during the same period.
The estimated economic costs of obesity for India by 2035 are projected to be $8.43 billion in direct healthcare costs, with additional costs comprising $109.38 billion (premature mortality), $176.32 million (direct non-medical costs), $2.23 billion (absenteeism), and $9.10 billion (reduced productivity).
Experts unanimously agree that a sedentary lifestyle is a major factor contributing to the rise in obesity. Additionally, changes in dietary habits, such as increased consumption of refined and processed foods low in nutrition but high in calories, play a significant role.
The excessive calorie intake, coupled with a sedentary lifestyle and easy access to unhealthy food, results in an energy imbalance where the number of calories consumed far exceeds the number of calories burned.
As obesity rates continue to rise, the prevalence of associated diseases, including diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and hormonal imbalances, is expected to increase. Data from NFHS indicates that urban residents and the top 20 percent of the population in terms of wealth are more prone to obesity and overweight conditions.
In India, the transition in food habits and lifestyle, combined with migration, rapid urbanization, and the shift toward nuclear families, necessitates regulations to mitigate risk factors.
It is crucial to recognize the burden of obesity-related diseases and prioritize interventions to improve the well-being of the population, particularly given the limited and inequitable distribution of resources.
In summary, the economic implications of obesity are vast, affecting individuals, communities, and countries alike.
Addressing this epidemic requires a multifaceted approach, including promoting physical activity, implementing policies to regulate unhealthy food consumption, raising awareness about the risks of obesity, and ensuring equitable access to resources and healthcare.
By taking proactive measures, societies can work towards reducing the economic burden and improving the overall health and well-being of their populations.