A new report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)—an intergovernmental economic organization with 36 member countries—shows that an increasing number of people are overweight and that this is curbing gross domestic product (GDP) by an estimated 3.3% on average. Rising levels of overweight are damaging global health and shortening life expectancy for adults. From 2020 to 2050, overweight and related diseases will reduce life expectancy by about three years across the OECD, European Union (EU28), and Group of 20 (G20) countries, according to the OECD analysis.

This report, published in The Economics of Prevention, analyses the economic, social, and health costs of the rising number of people who are obese or overweight in up to 52 countries, including OECD, EU28, and G20 countries. It makes an urgent economic case to scale up investments in policies to promote healthy lifestyles, examining expected expenditure, effectiveness, and returns on investment in tackling a mounting health problem across the world.

More than half the population is now overweight in 34 out of 36 OECD countries and almost one in four people is obese. Average rates of adult obesity in OECD countries have increased from 21% in 2010 to 24% in 2016, so an additional 50 million people are now obese. Despite a drive in the last decade to deal with increased obesity, more needs to be done amid sedentary lifestyles and an almost 20% increase in calorie supply in the OECD over the past 50 years.

A rise in the number of people with high body mass index (BMI) is squeezing healthcare budgets due to the high cost of chronic diseases linked to overweight, such as diabetes, cancers, and heart disease. OECD countries spend about 8.4% of their healthcare budget to provide treatment for overweight‑related diseases. On average in OECD countries, overweight is responsible for 71% of all treatment costs for diabetes, 23% of treatment costs for cardiovascular diseases, and 9% for cancers.

The OECD analyses estimates that treating the diseases caused by overweight costs $423 billion a year in 52 countries analyzed across the OECD, G20, EU28, OECD accession countries, and selected partner countries. Treating high BMI and associated conditions costs more than $200 per person per year, on average, across the OECD.

The OECD identifies four categories of policies to tackle the obesity problem and gauges the effect of three promising “policy packages” to help countries achieve greater impact and coherence in tackling the obesity epidemic. Food and menu labeling, regulation of advertising of unhealthy foods to children, and the promotion of exercise, including by doctors and schools, are among the measures analyzed. Every dollar spent on preventing obesity generates up to more than a six‑fold economic return, OECD analysis shows.

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