Economics of obesity

The McKinsey Global institute has published an economic analysis of obesity worldwide. We appreciate this analysis, because in an addition to the immediate health and wellness issues associated with being overweight, there are significant economic costs, and we believe this should be part of the larger discussion regarding mutuality.

As a recent Economist article on malnutrition points out, there is a relationship between current trends in obesity and malnutrition. As undernourishment has fallen, the number of people eating too many calories has risen correspondingly, meaning that many developing countries suffer all three manifestations of malnutrition - undernourishment, micronutrient deficiency and obesity - simultaneously. According to the first Global Nutrition Report, published earlier this month by the International Food Policy Research Institute, every country except China and South Korea has a public-health problem with at least one of child stunting, anemia among women of reproductive age and excessive weight among adults.

More than 2.1 billion people—nearly 30 percent of the global population—are overweight or obese." -- MGI Report

The key findings of the McKinsey report suggest that comprehensive inervention is needed on a global scale.

    1. Any single intervention is likely to have only a small overall impact on its own. A systemic, large-scale, sustained response, is required to address the burden.
    2. Education and personal responsibility are important, but not sufficient in themselves to reduce reduce obesity.

    3. No individual sectors in society, from the public sector to private business, the media to health systems, can address obesity on their own.

    4. Developing and deploying an anti-obesity program won't be easy, but there are three essential elements: A. launch as many interventions at scale, in as many sectors, as possible; B. look for alignment of incentives and ways to build cooperations; and C. prioritizing these elements should be a secondary concern to avoid constraining constructive action.
    5. Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good: experimentation on a wide scale can be more important than clinical and behavioral evidence in these early stages.

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Image source: McKinsey Global Institute

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