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Obesity shares common ground with other serious global threats: Portion control won't fix this

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Obesity ranked at major public health threat along with war and terrorism

A new report highlights the global impact of obesity that has also become a hot topic of debate. Personal attacks on individuals that are overweight or obese do nothing to solve the problem of escalating health care costs related to being overweight or obese from the increased burden of diseases that follow. The report highlights how little portion control will do to fight obesity, given the myriad of contributors and unknowns that have lead to expanding waistlines. Obesity ranks number three on the list of preventable threats to our global economy, preceded by smoking and war and terrorism.


According to the new McKinsey report, obesity of one of the top three societal problems created by human beings, joining the ranks of smoking as number one and armed violence, war and terrorism as number two. Fourth on the list is alcoholism.

Fighting obesity won't be easy

Interventions designed to slim our waistlines have largely failed. And according to the new report, it's going to take more than personal responsibility to reverse statistics showing that more than thirty percent of the world population are overweight or obese.

It's no wonder obesity has become a crisis that threatens our economic security. But what can be done remains a big question. According to the new report, almost half of the world's population will be overweight or obese by 2030 unless something is done.

The new McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) report, "Overcoming obesity: An initial economic analysis" is a starting point - a guide if you will that the authors say could be used as a starting point for compiling more evidence of what might work to change the current obesity trajectory that is currently responsible for five-percent of deaths annually.

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What's missing in the fight against obesity?

The report highlights some important research that is still needed if we're to tackle obesity which is preventable but complex. Aside from eating less and exercising more there is much to be learned about:

  • How certain hormones lead to satiety and which nutrients are best to keep us from food cravings and overeating
  • How certain nutrients affect metabolism
  • How gut bacteria might influence obesity

What is already being done

Personal responsibility for watching our weight and maintaining optimal health is still important. The McKinsey report authors recognize that investing in several initiatives could potentially pay off in the long run. For instance, reformulating food products, workplace wellness, reigning media promotion of unhealthy food choices, making high calorie beverages less available and food labeling are a few interventions estimated to save the UK National Health Service about $1.2 billion a year.

The report highlights the real threat of obesity that is considered more than just a health issue. The costs of obesity amounts to almost $2 trillion a year. Taking responsibility for obesity is important, but environment and "societal norms" also have to change as soon as possible, without undue focus on any one obesity intervention the authors say.

Image credit: CDC Public Health Image Library

Updated 4/1/2015