Addressing the Global Obesity Epidemic: Collaboration is Key

June 13, 2014 Johanna Goetzel, Mark J. Harris

As part of the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation conducted a systematic analysis of obesity rates from 1980-2013, showing a consistent upward trend worldwide. Underscoring the costs and health impacts of the obesity pandemic, the C3 Obesity policymaker survey 2014 provides data from 11 countries and indicates increasing awareness by policymakers about obesity.

These reports highlight an opportunity to focus efforts both in and outside government in order to support the World Health Organization’s goal of 25% relative reduction in the risk of premature mortality from non-communicable diseases (NCDs) by 2025. The economic benefit is also clear: obesity alone currently accounts for 0.7-2.8% of total global healthcare expenditures, with medical costs of obese individuals typically 30% greater than that of their normal weight peers.

Key areas for improving health include increasing physical activity (insufficient exercise was noted by almost half of policymakers as having a ‘very strong impact’ on future risk of obesity) and improving access to healthy foods. Moreover, marketing of unhealthy food was recognized by 98% of policymakers as impacting the risk of obesity, with 28% saying it has a ‘very strong’ impact. Focusing on both individual action and environmental structures that can promote or hinder health is a way for government and industry to collaborate on program design and implementation for a common goal of healthier populations.

Concerted global action is needed to combat the rising tide of obesity around the world. The time is ripe: according the C3 report, over 2/3 of US policymakers believe that employers have a role to play in encouraging healthy lifestyles, hopefully paving the way for strong cross-sector collaborations across government, healthcare organizations, and employers to build healthier communities.

Johanna Goetzel is a policy analyst for the Vitality Institute. Mark J. Harris is a dual MD/MPH student at Columbia University. You can follow their thoughts on Twitter at @johannagoetzel and @MarkMDMPH, and the Vitality Institute at @VitalityInst.

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