Obesity More Costly Than Smoking, Alcoholism, Study Finds

A new study from the United Kingdom suggests obesity presents healthcare costs comparable to those presented by smoking and is substantially more costly than armed conflict, alcoholism, and climate change.

The study, which was carried out by the McKinsey Global Institute, found that the worldwide cost of obesity — which can lead to diabetes, heart disease, and other potentially fatal conditions — is about 1.3 trillion UK pounds. For the United Kingdom, the cost is roughly 47 billion UK pounds each year.

To be considered overweight one’s Body Mass Index (BMI) — which divides weight in kilograms by height in metres squared — must be over 25. To be considered obese, one’s BMI must be over 30. Ideally, a person’s BMI will be between 18.5 and 25.

The cost of obesity continues to grow. It’s estimated that more than 2 billion people, or just under one-third the world’s total population, are overweight or obese. Shockingly, the report suggests that half the world’s population could be overweight or obese by the year 2030.

That trend will prove very expensive and must be confronted immediately, the report insists. Not only does obesity place pressure on healthcare facilities, it also results in lost productivity as workers miss work to deal with health-related issues.

To confront the issue, researchers suggest making systemic changes rather than relying on individuals to make lifestyle adjustments. “These initiatives would need to draw on interventions that rely less on individual responsibility and more on changes to the environment,” the report notes.

Potential strategies include better portion control on packaged foods and reformulating processed foods, especially those sold at fast food restaurants. Other ideas include placing higher taxes on high-fat and high-sugar products.

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