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Report: Obesity Costs Global Economy $2 Trillion

  • Jessica Berman

FILE - An overweight woman sits on a chair in Times Square, New York.

FILE - An overweight woman sits on a chair in Times Square, New York.

Obesity costs the global economy as much as smoking or war and terrorism, and exacts a toll greater than that caused by alcoholism.

The price tag in healthcare costs and missed work days as a result of obesity is estimated to hover around 2.8 percent of the yearly global economy, or $2 trillion.

According to the report by the McKinsey Global Institute, more than two billion people — roughly one-third of the world's population — are overweight or obese, and by 2030 that percentage will grow to nearly half.

Excess kilos are also responsible for five percent of all deaths worldwide, the Institute concluded.

Children as well as adults suffer from weight problems. Dyan Hes, a New York-based childhood obesity specialist and member of the American Board of Obesity Medicine says 80 percent of fat kids become overweight and obese adults.

She blames the easy availability of fast, cheap calorie-rich food for the obesity epidemic.

“I work in New York City where you walk into a waiting room in any pediatric hospital, and you look around the waiting room and the kids are eating Doritos and chips in a bag, and some of the babies have fruit punch in their bottles,” she said.

Experts determine whether someone is obese by calculating their body weight index, or BMI, and then dividing the person's weight in kilograms by the square of their height in meters.

Doctors say an individual who has a BMI greater than 25 is considered overweight, while an individual with a BMI between 30 and 40 is considered obese.

The report names 44 interventions to help counter the obesity epidemic, including public health campaigns, calorie content labels and making healthy school meals.

Hes says intervention begins with education about proper nutrition at an early age, pointing to things families can do to keep the kilos off.

“It’s education in the home," she said. "It’s getting people moving, going to walk after dinner. If you are going to the shopping mall, parking the furthest instead of the closest to the store. Getting off of one bus stop or subway stop earlier. Even in the airport, they have people movers. People don’t walk anymore.”

Experts are calling on governments, health care systems, soft drink manufacturers and food vendors to develop a coordinated response to the weight crisis.

No single intervention is seen as enough to combat the excess weight epidemic. But the new report concludes that several measures taken together will help tackle the problem.

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