Obesity costs Britain’s economy £47bn a year; more than war & terrorism, a new study has found. Cycling is part of the solution

Disincentivize driving & get Brits cycling, obesity study urges

A series of 44 interventions could bring 20 percent of obese people in the UK back to normal weight within five to 10 years, says a new report. Obesity costs Britain’s economy £47bn a year; more than war, terrorism or armed violence, found the study commissioned by consultants McKinsey and Company. The study says there’s no "silver bullet" to fight the epidemic – what’s required is a number of interlocking measures, including portion control in fast-food packaged goods, more PE lessons in schools and getting people out of cars and using their legs instead.

Overcoming obesity: An initial economic analysis uses cold, hard facts to point out that obesity is a major money waster and that it makes economic sense to tackle the obesity epidemic, spending cash on such things as safe cycle networks.

The study makes many recommendations (the mass media is mainly picking up on the food labelling and portion control interventions) but one of the key societal changes that McKinsey’s experts recommend is "active transport." The report calls for an "urban redesign" to get more people and cycling.

"Government authorities [have to] redesign urban planning to facilitate and encourage cycling," says the report. Critically, government will also have to "disincentivize driving." The report says that governments around the world ought to "redesign tariffs and parking laws, and improve the quality of public transport."

Obesity is a critical global issue that requires a comprehensive, international intervention strategy, says the report. More than 2.1 billion people – nearly 30 percent of the global population – are overweight or obese. That’s almost two and a half times the number of adults and children who are undernourished. Obesity is responsible for about 5 percent of all deaths a year worldwide, and its global economic impact amounts to roughly $2 trillion annually, or 2.8 percent of global GDP – nearly equivalent to the global impact of smoking or of armed violence, war, and terrorism.

If the prevalence of obesity continues on its current trajectory, almost half of the world’s adult population will be overweight or obese by 2030.

"Obesity is a complex, systemic issue with no single or simple solution," stresses the McKinsey report.

"Existing evidence indicates that no single intervention is likely to have a significant overall impact. A systemic, sustained portfolio of initiatives, delivered at scale, is needed to reverse the health burden. Almost all the identified interventions are cost effective for society – savings on healthcare costs and higher productivity could outweigh the direct investment required by the intervention when assessed over the full lifetime of the target population. In the United Kingdom, for instance, such a program could reverse rising obesity, saving the National Health Service about $1.2 billion a year."

The study adds: "Education and personal responsibility are critical elements of any program aiming to reduce obesity, but they are not sufficient on their own. Other required interventions rely less on conscious choices by individuals and more on changes to the environment and societal norms. They include reducing default portion sizes, changing marketing practices, and restructuring urban and education environments to facilitate physical activities."

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