Progression of obesity and overweight rates, respectively, in seven OECD countries, with previous OECD projections (dotted lines) for overweight. The prevalence of obesity today varies nearly tenfold among OECD countries, from a low of 4% in Japan and Korea, to 30% or more in the United States and Mexico. OECD, 2012

Contact: Franco Sassi,
21 February 2012

Until 1980, fewer than one in ten people were obese. Since then, rates doubled or tripled and in 19 of 34 OECD countries the majority of the population is now overweight or obese. OECD projections suggest that more than two out of three people will be overweight or obese in some OECD countries by 2020.

Three years on from the publication of the OECD report, Obesity and the economics of prevention: Fit not fat, rates have increased less than, or in line with, projections in most countries for which new data have become available. The data provide strong evidence that the progression of the epidemic has effectively come to a halt for the past ten years in countries such as Korea (where obesity rates have stabilised at 3-4%), Switzerland (7-8%), Italy (8-9%), Hungary (17-18%) and England (22-23%). There is, however, no sign of retrenchment of the epidemic, in any country. Rates remain very high in most of the OECD, and countries continue to experience a large burden from chronic diseases associated with obesity.

The latest data show modest increases in obesity over the past decade in countries like Spain and France, in the order of 2-3%, and larger increases in Ireland, Canada, and the United States (4-5%), although an even larger increase had been expected in the United States, based on previous OECD projections.

These findings would seem to contradict the argument that economic recession might fuel obesity by making people’s diets less healthy. Figures 1 and 2 illustrate the progression of obesity and overweight rates, respectively, in seven OECD countries, along with previous OECD projections (dotted lines) for overweight.

Policy Brief: OECD Obesity Update 2012 [pdf]

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