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Obesity: Impacts on Public Health and Society

Gaining a pound or two, especially during a decadent vacation, is a personal problem. Obesity, on the other hand, is a pandemic.  The World Health Organization estimates that about 1.5 billion people worldwide are overweight and 500 million are obese.

Not surprisingly, these overweight populations live mostly in industrialized nations with an additional worrisome condition. Healthcare costs in these nations are soaring. Plus, diseases linked to obesity are likely to further increase healthcare expenditure in America and Europe, where governments are already struggling due to a global economic recession and rising public debt.

Chad Meyerhofer and an international panel of obesity experts recently addressed these and other issues as guests of the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition in Milan, Italy. The Center seeks to enact a long-term plan involving institutions, food production chains, and individuals, according to their new report, “Obesity: Impacts on Public Health and Society."

Meyerhofer joined governmental advisors, academics and physicians in answering some of the common questions governments are now struggling with as the world collectively gains weight:

What are the dimensions and main causes of obesity?  How much does obesity cost to public health? And to society? How could the public and private sectors reduce and prevent obesity?

Meyerhoefer, as the panel’s lone American expert, focused on America’s surging lead in this dubious category. His work on the costs of obesity, published in the Journal of Health Economics, is one of the most frequently cited recent studies on the topic. His findings show that an obese person incurs medical costs that are $2,741 higher (in 2005 dollars) than if they were not obese. Nationwide, that translates into $190.2 billion per year, or 20.6 percent of national health expenditures.

Meyerhoefer has done work that tackles this growing problem in school-age children by conducting studies on the effectiveness of high school and elementary school physical education programs in reducing levels of childhood obesity and increase activity levels.

The Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition (BCFN) is a think tank founded in 2009 with the goal of analyzing major global issues connected with food and nutrition. Click here to view the international panel discussion.

Story by Jordan Reese

Posted on Friday, July 20, 2012

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