Obesity - The impacts on public health and society

BCFN’s position paper analyzes the phenomenon of obesity, which is considered to be a rapidly expanding global epidemic, highlighting its environmental, cultural, economic, and biological causes and its direct and indirect impact on society.

The document underlines the importance of obesity prevention to improve life expectancy and quality of life, as well as limiting public health expenditures. It is increasingly evident that due to the extent and gravity of the problem, combating overweight and obesity and the promotion of proper lifestyles and dietary patterns must be included in governments’ (national and international) political agendas.

Globally, about 1.5 billion adults are overweight and among them, 200 million men and 300 million women, are obese (WHO). These values have doubled compared to 1980 and by 2015, about 2.5 billion adults will be overweight and 700 million will be obese.

This phenomenon has some significant impacts on society including the costs linked to the treatment of the disease and its complications (personal medical care, hospital care, healthcare services, and drugs).  Direct costs linked to obesity represent between 2% and 8% of total healthcare costs worldwide (WHO). Healthcare expenses incurred by an obese person are. on average, 25% higher than those of a person of normal weight (Withrow and Alter, 2010).  Another important share of costs, defined as indirect costs, is tied to the loss of productivity.

Factors such as education levels, income, and social status seem to be determining factors regarding the likelihood of an individual’s becoming obese.

Childhood obesity, particularly in Western countries, represents a growing problem with remarkable healthcare and social significance. In fact, scientific literature has found a relationship between cases of overweight/obesity in childhood and in adulthood.

The responsibility to intervene to reduce the problem of obesity is, first of all, that of governments (national and international governments).  Potential tools at their disposal include: employing different information methods, education, persuasion to make individuals more aware of their own behavior (dietary and not) and their correctness; foster the availability of healthier alternatives for consumption (or by facilitating access to already existing healthier alternatives) and creating the presuppositions to combat physical inactivity; and imposing rules or using tax measures to discourage consumption of certain products.
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