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RTI-led study finds economic impacts of overweight and obesity set to reach 3.3% of global GDP by 2060

New peer-reviewed research published today in BMJ Global Health predicts that $2.2 trillion could be saved annually if overweight and obesity prevalence remained at 2019 levels

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — Overweight and obesity prevalence is set to cost the global economy 3.3% of GDP by 2060, according to a new study by the World Obesity Federation and nonprofit research institute RTI International.

The study, which was peer-reviewed and published today in BMJ Global Health, analyzes the current economic impact of overweight and obesity in 161 countries. It provides the first-ever country-specific global estimate of the economic impacts of overweight and obesity, mainly due to avoidable healthcare costs of cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease that are attributable.

The impact in terms of GDP is projected to increase as a result of the rising prevalence of overweight and obesity, population changes and economic growth. The study found that if the proportion of people living with overweight and obesity remained at 2019 levels, $2.2 trillion could be saved on average annually between 2020 and 2060. A 5% reduction in the projected prevalence of overweight and obesity between 2020 and 2060 would result in an average of $429 billion in global annual savings.

The countries expected to have the largest economic impacts of overweight and obesity by 2060 are China, the U.S. and India. It is predicted to cost China over $10 trillion, the U.S. over $2.5 trillion and India nearly $850 billion. Other countries with the economic impact of overweight and obesity projected to exceed $100 billion include Germany, Canada, Australia, Brazil, the U.K. and Japan. The impact on the United Arab Emirates is expected to be the highest in terms of the proportion of GDP (11.04%).

“We shouldn’t be surprised about the projected increases in obesity when we contemplate the many factors that make it hard for people to lead healthy lives,” said Dr. Rachel Nugent, vice president for global noncommunicable diseases at RTI. “The take-home lesson from this research is that countries and companies have strong economic incentives to help people and workers be healthy and avoid the high costs of obesity-related diseases.”

Currently, it is estimated the economic impact of obesity is the equivalent of 2.19% of global GDP. The estimated economic loss per capita in 2019 ranges from $6 in lower-income countries to $1,110 in higher-income countries – which is also a reflection of the wage and GDP difference in those regions. That is equivalent to 0.87% and 2.46% of GDP, respectively.

The research projects that the economic impacts due to overweight and obesity will disproportionately affect lower-resourced countries over wealthier nations. Total economic impacts are likely to increase by four times in high-income countries whereas the increase is expected to be between 12-25 times in low and middle-income countries. In the WHO Europe region, the economic impact is expected to more than double compared with a 26-fold increase in the WHO Western Pacific Region.

“These estimates of the economic impact of overweight and obesity should alarm governments across the world,” said Johanna Ralston, CEO, World Obesity Federation. “The persistent stigmatisation of people living with obesity and policies that do not reflect the most recent evidence have led to failing approaches that ignore obesity’s root causes. This study has highlighted the need for urgent, concerted and holistic action to address the global rise in overweight and obesity prevalence. We can alter this through the right policy and private sector attention to reduce factors in the environment that can cause the noncommunicable disease. Doing so will help to boost the wellbeing of people, provide economic gains and improve resilience to disease outbreaks.”

The study comes after the World Obesity Federation estimated earlier this year that one billion people will be living with obesity by 2030. Last year with RTI, the organization launched a pilot study for the economic impact of overweight and obesity, focusing on eight countries. The World Obesity Federation is calling for world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly to address the root cause of overweight and obesity through systemic solutions, rather than focusing on individual responsibility.

Read the full study

About RTI International

RTI International is an independent, nonprofit research institute dedicated to improving the human condition. Clients rely on us to answer questions that demand an objective and multidisciplinary approach — one that integrates expertise across the social and laboratory sciences, engineering and international development. We believe in the promise of science, and we are inspired every day to deliver on that promise for the good of people, communities and businesses around the world. For more information, visit www.rti.org.

About World Obesity Federation

  • The World Obesity Federation (www.worldobesity.org) is the only global organisation focused exclusively on obesity. It brings together member organisations dedicated to solving the problems of obesity, representing professional members of the scientific, medical and research communities from over 50 regional and national obesity associations.
  • The World Obesity Federation is calling on Governments to adopt the ‘ROOTS’ framework for tackling obesity which was developed by a panel of global obesity experts last year. The ‘ROOTS’ framework for actions involves Recognising the root causes, monitoring Obesity data, investing in Obesity prevention, ensuring access to Treatments, and adopting a Systems-based approach.
  • The World Obesity Federation is a lead partner to global agencies on obesity, including WHO – with which it has formal consultative status, approved by the World Health Assembly.