Health and Healthcare Systems

This is where obesity places the biggest burden on healthcare

A passenger waits for a delayed flight at Heathrow airport's terminal four in London August 12, 2006. As healthcare costs in such heavyweight nations as the United States and heavy-smoking locations as Dundee keep rising, and as governments move to cut huge budget deficits, hundreds of local authorities, employers and health insurers - even the occasional former investment banker - are dabbling with health incentive schemes. The idea is simple: pay people to act now and governments will reap the rewards later in lower healthcare costs. Statistically speaking, people who shun harmful habits are more productive and have less need for expensive hospitals, doctors and medicines. Picture taken August 12, 2006. To match Special Report HEALTH-INCENTIVES/   REUTERS/Toby Melville/Files (UNITED KINGDOM - Tags: BUSINESS HEALTH SOCIETY) - GM1E67F1M9501

A passenger waits for a delayed flight at Heathrow airport's terminal four in London. Image: REUTERS/Toby Melville/Files

Johnny Wood
Writer, Forum Agenda
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Health and Healthcare Systems?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how Global Health is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

Global Health

The planet’s population is growing rapidly - both in number and, in many places, size. Rising obesity levels place a heavy burden on healthcare provisions, leaving some countries facing an increasingly hefty bill, according to a new report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Obese people use healthcare services more frequently than most and require more specialty care visits, in-patient treatment admissions and surgery procedures. Providing medical services to tackle this problem can be a drain on healthcare budgets.

Almost one-in-four people in OECD countries are obese, the study shows, rising to almost 60% of the population when overweight people are included. Despite initiatives to combat this phenomenon, the number of people leading unhealthy lifestyles is on the rise and obesity rates are growing.

Have you read?

On average, treating obesity-related issues accounts for 8.4% of total healthcare spending in OECD countries.

The US has the highest projected per capita spending on treating obesity of any OECD country.
Image: Statista

The US is set to spend more per person treating obesity than any other OECD country. Over the next 30 years, this is expected to reach an annual outlay of almost $655 per person – 14% of the country’s total annual healthcare expenditure.

Across the border, neighbouring Canada is expected to spend less than half that per capita figure.

Germany sits between the two North American countries, with projected spending of more than $400 per person. Five of the top 10 list are European countries, with Italy and Spain coming in fourth and fifth.

Obesity accounts for more than two-thirds of all treatment costs for diabetes, almost a quarter of treatment for cardiovascular conditions and 9% of cancer cases, according to the report. As well as lowering life expectancy, it hinders school performance, decreases worker productivity and lowers gross domestic product (GDP).

Profound impact

Poor diet, lack of exercise and an inactive lifestyle all contribute to putting on excessive weight, which has far-reaching consequences beyond the cost of healthcare.

The OECD report estimates that reducing the calorie intake of energy-dense foods by a fifth could have a profound impact. Each year, this could prevent more than a million cases of noncommunicable diseases like heart conditions, save more than $13 billion in healthcare spending and increase worker numbers by almost 1.5 million.

Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

These youth-led mental health solutions are making a difference worldwide

Elisha London

July 24, 2024

About Us



Partners & Members

  • Sign in
  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum