Obesity ‘becoming an epidemic’

2010-09-23 12:10

Paris – Obesity is becoming the most prevalent public health problem in industrialised nations, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said, and called on governments to take comprehensive action to tackle it.

Since 1980, when fewer than one in 10 people in OECD member nations were obese, rates have doubled and even tripled in many countries, the OECD said in a report released today in Paris.

“If recent trends continue, projections suggest that more than two out of three people will be overweight or obese in at least some OECD countries within the next 10 years,” the OECD said in the study, Obesity and the Economics of Prevention.

According to the OECD’s website, one is obese when one has a body mass index (BMI) of 30.

The BMI is calculated by dividing a person’s weight in kilograms by the square of one’s height in metres.

The reasons for the surge in obesity include: changes in food production that “have cut the price of calories dramatically”; changing living and working conditions that reduced the amount of physical activity; increased levels of stress; and longer working hours, the OECD said.

Women are more often obese than men, but male obesity rates have been growing faster than female rates in most OECD countries.

In addition, obesity is more common among the poor and the less educated.

These social disparities are also present in obesity rates for children, the organisation said.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the problem is most acute in the world’s most prosperous country, the United States, where in 2008 nearly three in four women and two in three men were overweight, and about one-third of all adults were obese.

As a result, obesity accounts for between 5 and 10% of total health expenditure in the US, compared to 1 to 3% in most other countries.

“And costs will rise rapidly in coming years as obesity-related diseases set in,” the OECD warned.

The organisation called on governments to take action to “help people change their lifestyle,” including health education and promotion, regulation and fiscal measures as well as lifestyle counselling by physicians.

These methods “are a better investment than many treatments currently provided by OECD health care systems,” the organisation said.

Such a comprehensive strategy would prevent 155 000 deaths from chronic diseases in Japan every year, 75 000 in Italy, 70 000 in Britain and 40 000 in Canada.

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