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The weight of the world: the obesity epidemic in OECD countries

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (www.oecd.org) has released Obesity Update 2012, a policy brief updating an earlier study on the economic impact of obesity in the 34 OECD member countries, including the United States. 

  • Before 1980, fewer than 1 in 10 people were obese.
  • Today, the majority of the population are overweight or obese in 19 of the 34 OECD countries.
  • Some countries – Korea, Switzerland, Italy, Hungary, England – have stabilized the growth of the epidemic.
  • Korea and Japan have the lowest prevalence rates, at 3.8 and 3.9 percent of the population, respectively
  • The U.S. edges out Mexico as the most obese country: 33.8 percent of the total population is overweight or obese
  • Estimates allocate 1-3% of health expenditures to obesity-related problems; in the U.S., the estimate is 5-10%

The paper includes brief discussions on child obesity, the social disparities of obesity, and what governments can do to combat the problem, including a lengthy sidebar on “fat taxes” – special taxes on foods and beverages that are considered to be unhealthy.  Some countries that have imposed fat taxes include Denmark, Hungary, Finland and France.  The sidebar analysis includes brief descriptions of what food and/or beverage groups incur the additional tax.

Source: Sassi, Franco, and Devaux, Marion.  Obesity Update 2012.  Paris, France: Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, February 2012.  http://www.oecd.org/document/55/0,3746,en_2649_37407_49715511_1_1_1_37407,00.html

Obesity and the Economics of Prevention: Fit Not Fat.  Paris, France: OECD, 2010.  This is the original 265-page report published in September 2010.  An executive summary, background notes, and additional ancillary material is available at http://www.oecd.org/document/31/0,3746,en_2649_37407_45999775_1_1_1_37407,00.html#Executive_Summary.  The entire report is for sale through the OECD online bookstore.

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