It’s hardly revolutionary, but a study commissioned by consultants McKinsey and Company has emphasised the important role played by physical activity in combating obesity. The report recommends that government authorities redesign tariffs, pedestrianisation and parking laws to ‘disincentivise driving’.
Overcoming obesity: An initial economic analysis addresses a critical global issue with nearly 30 per cent of the world’s population classified as being overweight or obese according to the authors – they estimate its economic impact at $2 trillion a year. Furthermore, it is suggested that if current trends continue, almost half of the world’s adult population will be overweight or obese by 2030.
The report is an attempt to evaluate the components of a potential strategy and looks at 44 different ‘interventions’ which might help address the problem. The report emphasises that obesity is a complex, cultural issue with no single intervention likely to have an enormous impact on its own. “A systemic, sustained portfolio of initiatives, delivered at scale, is needed to address the health burden.”
Being an economic study, cost is one of the major concerns. However, almost all of the interventions identified are considered cost-effective thanks to savings on healthcare costs and higher productivity. The authors estimate that a cohesive approach could save the NHS around £770m a year.
A recurring theme is of the need to change the environment and societal norms in an effort to make healthy behaviour easier. This might mean reducing food portion sizes or altering marketing practices, but it might also involve altering infrastructure to encourage active travel, such as walking and cycling.
"Government authorities [have to] redesign urban planning to facilitate and encourage cycling," says the report. While this ranks below several other interventions in terms of the estimated impact, the authors emphasise that they are only measuring this in terms of an individual’s BMI. They are also keen to point out that “cycling improves cardiovascular and mental health and reduces carbon emissions,” as being additional benefits.