Modern society tends to substantially develop itself within the scope of discoveries, technical achievements, and improvement of social relations. Moreover, in the scientific dimension, discussions are no longer merely about the gradual transformation of historically established conditions, traditions, and trends. It is about the attainment of the so-called sustainable economic development, which implies the conscious elimination of fluctuations within productive relationships between countries and individuals. In such a state of affairs, goal-oriented evolution is put at the forefront, leading to an increase in the efficiency of economic and social processes that provide higher standards of living for members of society. It might be assumed that obesity should be considered as an obstacle that hinders this evolution and the economy’s development. This paper aims to investigate the issue of the high rates of obesity in the framework of the global economy, as well as their impact on the latter.
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The Essence and Issue of Obesity
In the light of terminology that penetrates the theory and practice of economics, various unfavorable or undesirable options and directions of economic development are often interpreted as challenges and threats. They are the imbalance of the planetary ecosystem and the catastrophic changes in the natural and climatic conditions of the human environment, global environmental pollution, and depletion of reserves of many natural resources. Moreover, these are the presence of nuclear weapons, population explosion associated with rapid and uncontrolled population growth, especially in developing countries, and the accelerated aging of the population of the economically developed countries.
Undoubtedly, each of the above challenges can create additional difficulties in ensuring sustainable economic development. However, one should not forget that any goals and objectives are realized by people whose qualitative characteristics can bring specific issues to the process of achieving any set guidelines. In this regard, the particular problem of obesity comes to the fore. At first approximation, it would seem that there always have been obese people who, with their mass and appearance, were noticeably distinguished from the others. Nevertheless, this claim is misleading because today, in the vast majority of countries, there is a process of increasing the proportion of overweight people. This circumstance gives rise to several problems of an economic nature.
Obesity, which manifests itself in the presence of excess body fat (or overweight), is great harm to health, as it leads to various forms of morbidity and premature death. If to consider obesity as a kind of social process, then, apparently, the expansion of the population of overweight people should be taken into account. Unfortunately, with the presence both on the globe as a whole and in individual countries, the process of obesity is gaining visible proportions.
In different states, about 10% of the total health budget goes to the treatment of obesity and its associated diseases. Obesity is not just a global problem in modern society; it is also a medical, social, and economic problem (Troutman, 2015). The issue of being overweight is becoming increasingly relevant and is beginning to pose a social threat to people’s lives (WHO, 2020). This issue is regardless of societal and professional affiliation, area of residence, age, or gender. The achievements of civilization, which made available high-calorie nutrition and allowed to reduce the need for physical exertion, contributed to the fact that the number of patients suffering from obesity began to catastrophically increase. Today, there are cases when the bodyweight of a person reaches 300, 400, and even 600 kg. Obesity reduces resistance to colds and infectious diseases; in addition, it dramatically increases the risk of complications from surgical interventions and trauma.
If to summarize the list of points presented, two key assumptions may be synthesized. First, the process of obesity is widespread – from the standpoint of coverage of the planet as a whole, its regions, countries, and the most diverse segments of the population. The proliferation of overweight residents does not distinguish the geopolitical, national, regional, social, gender, and religious boundaries. Secondly, with even not an absolute trust to the numbers – statistical benchmarks (and related to the absolute and relative sizes of the contingent of overweight people) – one cannot but admit that obesity is massive. It means that this phenomenon covers a significant number of people within a society.
Obesity’s Economic Impact
It should be mentioned that the increase of obese people cannot pose additional obstacles to the development of the economy if it lags from the expansion of the size of the economically active population. However, the increase in the proportion of overweight residents has a completely different connotation, as it is associated with the real burden of obesity in society. It should not be forgotten that from a historical point of view, the problem of obesity does not exist for centuries, but millennia, as evidenced by many archaeological excavations of the Stone Age.
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The increase in the number of overweight people hurts the global economy, human health, and overall well-being. WHO states that “between 1975 and 2016, the frequency of obesity worldwide nearly tripled. Overall, in 2016, 39% of men and 40% of women … were considered overweight” (as cited in Trevir, 2019, para. 5). Most obese individuals (over 70 percent) live in middle-income countries, while in developing countries – around 6 percent. Furthermore, about four million people die each year from obesity-related diseases. Such numbers imply that obesity negatively affects the available workforce worldwide, which does not allow the coherent and productive functioning of the global economy.
What is more, obesity has an impact on this economy by lowering labor productivity and life expectancy, increasing health care costs, and social benefits. Many investigators and officials predict that in the next 15 years, the costs associated with the increase of obese people in developing countries will exceed $7 trillion. These costs will put a significant burden on a country’s budget, which will reduce expenses on the other essential spheres – such as innovations or education. Hence, it is visible that the policy of a government also meets several issues caused by high obesity rates. This might lead to the reduction of financial flows vital to stimulate both the economic growth and development of a particular country. In turn, the latter is inevitably involved in the process of globalization that blurs the boundaries between states (Fox et al., 2019). It means that if one country is drastically affected by some negative factors, the global economy suffers from it too. Almost all countries are bound to each other by several economic dimensions – such as trade – and when one actor is out of cooperation, the others start forced spending.
Then, there is quite a specific issue within the scope of inequality. “Within nations, rising obesity threatens to deepen the social divides which have become ever starker in recent decades due to sweeping technological change” (Reynolds, 2017, para. 14). It might be suggested that there is a solid relation between high obesity rates and low socioeconomic status. Adults with this status are more likely to become overweight if compare with the ones from more senior groups. Obesity develops several inner complexes that hinder self-development and the opportunity to improve one’s performance in various areas. According to Reynolds (2017, para. 14), “By damaging labor market outcomes, obesity will only entrench economic inequality further.” This inequality might only deepen the gap between developed and developing countries.
Furthermore, experts urge governments to regulate the nutrition of the population. For example, they recommend raising taxes on foods and drinks that are high in sugar and lectures on the benefits of healthy eating in schools. It is also proposed to increase investment in the detection and treatment of obesity-related diseases. It shows that countries are forced to adapt their policies to the problems that obesity and its related issues may bring. For instance, Hungary implemented “a comprehensive tax on foods high in salt, fat, and sugar has been in place since 2011, with the funds raised reinvested in the national health service” (Reynolds, 2017, para. 15). Soon after this, nearly a third of Hungarians claimed that they had to change their eating patterns. A plethora of other countries tends to follow such a practice and restrict the consumption of sugar at the governmental level.
States seem to gradually comprehend possible outcomes that may result from obesity. They tend to collaborate more at the level of international organizations such as the World Health Organization or the Food and Agriculture Organization. This might be the only relatively positive effect that obesity puts on the global economy. It seems that nowadays, states’ affairs are substantially affected by the egoistic political aspirations of a particular group of influenceable countries. They aim to achieve their interests that are likely to be out of the focus of the others. The problem of obesity seems to be a common ground on which all the states are open to dialogue and full-scale cooperation – without any decent. They are ready to provide support to each other, as well as for less developed countries on a gratis basis. Such a trend – although to an insignificant extent – might warm current international relationships, which is suitable for constant collaboration that drives the global economy coherently and substantially.
It seems rational to state that the use of almost all the above indicators might face several serious problems. They are associated with obtaining reliable information for general calculation. It should be admitted that today, there are quite definite social stereotypes. The first one is connected with an intolerant attitude towards overweight people. For this reason, they do not always seek to advertise their life difficulties. As a result, many members of society who are overweight do not tend to admit this to themselves, as well as turn to specialists for timely assistance and support.
Thus, medical statistics cover only those obese individuals who have appealed to clinics and hospitals. If overweight people are not listed in the related institutions, they fall out of the scope of statistical accounting. Therefore, society does not have complete information about the true extent of the spread of obesity. Furthermore, currently, there are no effective and proven methods to assess the state’s losses from obesity, both people of working age and the entire population. The weakest point of existing algorithms is the underestimation of the social discomfort experienced by people who are overweight. It especially matters in the context of the actual quality of life and the availability of various goods and services.
In conclusion, the process of obesity in modern society is undoubtedly a severe obstacle to the development of the global economy, as well as to the achievement of its sustainability. Therefore, the issue requires comprehensive research, development, and justification of programs aimed at reducing losses caused by the increase in the proportion of overweight people in the total population. The above investigation revealed that obesity causes several substantial problems to the global economy. First, increasing rates of obesity suggest that the number of available working force tend to decrease. Second, it was found that the phenomenon will force some additional governmental costs, which negatively affects an appropriate financial flow. Third, obesity deepens and is related to social and economic inequality within a society. Fourth, the problem makes states adapt their economic policies to it. Fifth, it was claimed that the only positive effect of obesity is that countries tend to unite their efforts to overcome the problem. Finally, it was assumed that the number of obese people worldwide is underestimated due to insufficient methodology and approaches.
Fox, A., Feng, W., & Asal, V. (2019). What is driving global obesity trends? Globalization or “modernization”? Globalization and Health 15(32), 1–16. Web.
Reynolds, O. (2017). The bulging economic costs of obesity. Focus Economics. Web.
Trevir, N. (2019). The economic cost of an obese society. Investopedia. Web.
Troutman, K. (2015). How obesity causes big problems for the economy. Cheatsheet.com. Web.
WHO. (2020). Obesity and overweight. Web.