Obesity is the fastest growing chronic disease, killing 2.8 million adults every year. In the United States, more than 35% of the population is obese and in the United Kingdom the figure has reached 25%. But developed countries are not the only ones facing this epidemic; developing nations are also getting fat.

The facts are staggering:

  • In 2008, more than 1.4 billion adults over the age of 20 were overweight
  • 30% of Mexican adults are obese
  • 65% of people live in countries were obesity kills more than undernourishment does
  • In 2008, medical costs associated with obesity in the US were estimated at US$ 147 billion

The problem seems evident. People eat more calories than they burn and it is cheaper to buy junk food than the healthier options. As we lead more sedentary lifestyles, our predilection for sweets, fats and salt become a health risk. Indeed, being overweight or obese has significant health implications such as a higher risk of diabetes, cardiovascular and liver diseases as well as cancer.

Although obesity is preventable, it is the elephant in the room that nobody tackles. When will we open our eyes and do something to overcome this epidemic?

We are becoming a fat society and need to deal with it. There are numerous stakeholders which are part of the problem and should be involved in developing implementable solutions.

While certain groups solely blame the individual for being fat, I believe that is too simplistic. Yes, the individual should take responsibility for what he puts in his mouth, but he isn’t the one who puts the food on the market.

There are many things that governments and businesses can do to help our society to drop to a decent belt size, including raising awareness of the problem, imposing taxes on unhealthy food and subsidizing healthy options as well as providing access to sports. The question is how to strike the right policy mix, so that the individual wants to choose the salad over the fries.

Join us for the War against Obesity debate at the Open Forum 2013 in Davos on 26 January, in which panellists including Lisa MacCallum Carter, Linda Fried, Alison Martin and Jason Li Yat-Sen will consider what should be done to overcome this deadly epidemic.

Author: Tiffany Misrahi is Senior Associate, Global Agenda Councils, at the World Economic Forum.

 Image: A healthy School Meals are served to students at Marston Middle School in San Diego REUTERS/Mike Blake