A recent study by the World Obesity Federation, in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO), has projected that more than half of the global population will be overweight or obese by 2035. If no significant policy changes are implemented, and current trends persist, the cost of obesity is estimated to increase globally, reaching a staggering $4.32 trillion annually.
Alarming data reveals that obesity rates have not decreased in any country since 1975. Medical costs account for a significant 99.8% of direct taxes worldwide, while premature deaths contribute to 69.1% of all indirect costs.
This economic impact corresponds to roughly 3% of global GDP, comparable to the annual growth of an entire economy on par with the economic devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. These projections represent a notable increase from the $1.96 trillion (2.4% of global GDP) recorded in 2020. Additionally, another study suggests that by 2060, obesity and overweight individuals could cost the global economy 3.3% of GDP.
In India, obesity rates have seen a significant surge in recent decades. The National Family Health Survey (NFHS) reports that the proportion of obese or overweight men has risen from 9.3% in 2006 to 22.9% in 2021, while for women, it has increased from 12.6% to 24% during the same period. Estimations indicate that by 2035, the economic costs of obesity in India will amount to $8.43 billion in direct healthcare expenses. Additional costs encompass $109.38 billion due to premature mortality, $176.32 million in direct non-medical costs, $2.23 billion from absenteeism, and $9.10 billion due to reduced productivity.
Experts unanimously agree that sedentary lifestyles significantly contribute to the obesity epidemic. Moreover, changes in dietary habits, such as the increased consumption of calorie-dense, nutritionally poor refined and processed foods, exacerbate the issue. The imbalance between calorie intake and expenditure, coupled with easy access to unhealthy food options, compounds the problem.
As obesity rates continue to rise, the prevalence of associated diseases, including diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and hormonal imbalances, is expected to escalate. Childhood obesity is also a pressing concern, as it leads to adolescents entering adulthood with established risk factors for chronic diseases. NFHS data reveals that urban residents in India face a higher likelihood of being obese or overweight compared to their rural counterparts. Additionally, the top 20% of wealthier individuals are at an elevated risk of obesity or overweight.
Given the inevitable shifts in food habits, lifestyles, urbanization, and the transition to nuclear families, regulations are essential to mitigate risk factors. Prioritizing the burden of obesity-related diseases, ensuring adequate visibility, and implementing necessary interventions are crucial. Public health advocacy and planning must address the equitable distribution of resources to safeguard the well-being of the population effectively.
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