The economic impact of obesity is predicted to make up 3.6%, on average, of a nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 2060, if current trends continue, according to a study published in the BMJ Global Health journal.

The researchers 'used a cost-of-illness' approach to estimate the economic impact of obesity in eight countries for 2019 and for 2060. 

Australia, Brazil, India, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Spain and Thailand were chosen to reflect different geographic regions and income levels.

Obesity costs could double in Spain and increase 19-fold in India by 2060

In 2019, they calculated that the total per capita costs of obesity ranged from $17 USD in India to $940 USD in Australia, which is the equivalent to 1.76% of GDP on average, ranging from 0.8% in India to 2.4% in Saudi Arabia.

On average, medical costs made up 90% of direct costs across all countries, while informal caregivers constituted more than 90% of direct non-medical costs, on average. Losses from premature death comprised around 56%–92% of indirect costs across all the countries.

With rising obesity prevalence, population changes, and economic growth, the researchers calculated that between 2020 and 2060, obesity costs would double in Spain and increase 19-fold in India.

Keeping obesity prevalence at 2019 levels could cut average annual costs by 13%

The researchers then considered two hypothetical scenarios. Firstly, they estimate that a 5% reduction in obesity prevalence from the projected levels would result in total costs of obesity as a proportion of GDP, ranging from 2.4% in Spain to 4.9% in Thailand by 2060.

Compared with 2019 projections, this implies average annual savings of around 5.2% across all eight countries between 2021 and 2060.

The second hypothetical scenario estimates that the total costs of obesity, if obesity prevalence remains constant at 2019 levels, would result in an average annual reduction in obesity prevalence ranging from 9% to 22% by 2060.

As a proportion of projected GDP, total costs in 2060 would range from around 1.4% in India to 4% in Mexico, resulting in average annual savings of 13% compared with baseline projected costs.

Urgent action needed to reduce potential economic impacts of obesity

The researchers highlight that it is not those living with obesity who create or are responsible for the associated costs or economic losses, but an increasingly obesogenic environment.

They conclude: “Our findings suggest that there are enormous economic impacts associated with obesity across countries irrespective of geography or income level. There is tremendous variation across countries in the level and impacts of obesity but — as seen in these eight countries — historical and current trends demonstrate that economic costs will rise over time.

“We project that the prevalence of obesity will increase to about 57% of the population in India and to about 93% of the population in Saudi Arabia in 2060.”

They add: “The scenarios underscore the need to take urgent action to reduce potential economic impacts in the future. This will not be achieved if current levels of underinvestment in treatment and the social determinants of obesity continue.

“Overall, our findings make the case for a concerted increase in national efforts to combat the global rise in obesity prevalence and overcome the existing policy inertia that has hampered progress on obesity policy implementation.”