Mckinsey Report: Fighting Global Obesity

HealthGal Health Guide
  • McKinsey & Company is a well-respected global management consulting firm.  They recently released a report, Overcoming Obesity: An initial economic analysis, highlighting the fact that obesity is one of the top three social burdens generated by humans.  After smoking and “armed violence-war-terrorism,” obesity impacts the global GDP by an estimated two trillion dollars.  Obesity is now considered a critical global issue, with more than 2.1 billion people affected worldwide.  The news covers worldwide hunger, deservedly, but obesity affects nearly two and half times the number of people (adults and children) who are undernourished.  And the numbers continue to increase.  If worldwide obesity continues at its current pace, then half the world’s population will be overweight or obese by the year 2030.

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    It is clear to most people that obesity is a complex condition.  The discussion about obesity can unfortunately get downright antagonistic with loads of finger-pointing.  There’s no solution or therapy that universally works, and the rate of recidivism after a diet or even bariatric surgery is quite high.  Few healthcare systems worldwide are set up to do the kind of prevention and therapy needed for long term management of obesity.  And there are no clear treatments that offer lasting remission from the disease, though a small subset of the populace seem able to sustain weight loss.  Talk to the average person about weight and the buzzwords they use include: diet, willpower, exercise, meditation, acupuncture, gluten-free, genetics, carb free, high protein, as just some of the solutions they believe are at the core of beating obesity.  Researchers continue to investigate.  The new McKinsey Global Institute report attempts to offer an objective assessment and potential recommendations. 


    The report looked at a total of 74 interventions going on worldwide, that fall into 18 sectors.  Included among the interventions are universally-subsidized school meals, calorie and nutrition food labeling, restrictions on advertising of high calorie foods and drinks, and public health campaigns.  Analysts were able to find sufficient data on 44 interventions in 16 sectors.  The writers of the report admit they may have missed interventions, under-estimated or overestimated the impact of some, and suggest that the report is an effort to come to an understanding of what it takes to address obesity. The key is changes in energy balance.  Still, it’s not clear if certain nutrients affect satiety hormones or metabolism, and just how substantial the gut bacteria-obesity link is.  Research on those theories continues.


    The report’s main findings:

    • No single intervention will have a grand or overall impact.  A systemic and looping together of interventions is more than likely needed.
    • Though personal education and personal responsibility are crucial, they’re not enough on their own to intercept obesity.  Corporate, government, and community must come together.  Changing current marketing practices, having a default portion size, and finding ways to naturally encourage fitness, are all keys to the formula.
    • Many sectors must join hands - government, retailers, consumer-goods companies, media, educators, healthcare providers and individuals - and it needs to be a coordinated effort.


  • The goal, of course, is to reduce the number of years lost or rendered “economically unproductive,” or lost as in “early death,” or “affected by associated chronic diseases that impact quality of life.”  Changing someone’s destiny from obesity to a manageable weight, translates to lots of dollars saved across many sectors.  The report suggests that the need to intercept obesity is so great, that it’s far better to experiment with solutions than to wait for proven solutions, especially since many of the interventions are low risk.  That’s a pretty powerful statement.

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    Experts believe that the best diet and exercise plan for you is the one that yields sustained weight loss.  Maybe in your case it’s a low carbohydrate diet and aerobic exercise; for someone else it may be a Mediterranean diet and weight training.  Maybe doctors need to start prescribing vegetables instead of pills, especially for overweight children.  We do know that ongoing support and a community environment that encourages walking and biking can be very helpful.  But based on this report we still have great strides to make worldwide.


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Published On: December 09, 2014