In 2010, the OECD issued a comprehensive report titled Fit Not Fat in which they noted that ‘before 1980, obesity rates were generally well below 10%. They have since doubled or tripled in many countries, and in almost half of the OECD, 50% or more of the population is overweight.’ The report outlined various approaches to reducing obesity – unfortunately to little avail.

In 2019 the OECD issued a second report titled The Heavy Burden of Obesity. In the first paragraph they conceded that despite government actions little had improved in the preceding decade.

‘During the intervening years, countries have put in place innovative and … ambitious policies to turn the tide on the obesity epidemic. Unfortunately, … obesity rates have continued to climb to 58% of the adult population across OECD countries. Childhood and morbid obesity have gone from a rare event to a common occurrence. Obesity now poses an alarming burden on individuals, societies and economies in OECD countries and beyond.’

Nearly 25% of the population in OECD member states is now obese and roughly 7.5% is morbidly obese. This excessive weight causes numerous personal, economic, and societal harms.

‘… across the OECD, and [obesity] will curb GDP by an estimated 3.3% on average. Health problems linked to expanding waistlines are pushing up workplace absenteeism and lowering productivity … damaging our health, wealth and wellbeing, lowering school performance for children, and increasing the risk of unemployment and shortening life expectancy for adults.’

At 10.4% of GDP (Eurostat, 2020), Austrian healthcare expenditures are the fourth highest in the EU. The Austrian healthcare system is one of the best in the world and Austrians have a tacit expectation of unfailing full comprehensive state coverage. As political analyst Ernst Sittinger has noted:

‘… in Austria existential risks are essentially unknown. Where they nevertheless occur, a completely comprehensive state protects us. The hospital is open 24 hours a day and in case of an alpine emergency or heart attack a helicopter whisks us to safety…’

Austrians consider healthcare to be a guaranteed public good i.e. ‘a service that is for the benefit of, and available to, all members of the public’. Unfortunately, Austrians are misinformed. The public healthcare system is a limited common-pool resource and obesity jeopardizes availability.

Next post I will examine Austrian healthcare financing and capacity limits. What threats does the healthcare system in your country face? Leave a comment.

Photo by Alexandr Podvalny from Pexels.

One thought on “The societal and economic cost of obesity

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