Progress is being made in the fight against obesity

A policy brief released earlier this year from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reports that the obesity epidemic has slowed or halted altogether in several countries. Though the progression of the epidemic has decelerated, the overall rate of obesity remains high among both children and adults.

Data from several OECD countries shows that the obesity epidemic has slowed. There is strong evidence that it has halted in countries such as Korea (where obesity rates have stabilized at 3-4 percent), Switzerland (7-8 percent), Italy (8-9 percent), Hungary (17-18 percent) and England (22-23 percent).

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

New data on child obesity from four OECD countries (England, France, Korea and United States) confirm and possibly strengthen the message emerging from analyses of adult obesity. Rates evolved according to previous OECD projections or, more often, below those projections, in all four countries. Child obesity rates have effectively remained stable (at 6-8 percent) over the past 20 years in France. The same is true in the other three countries during the past 10 years, although with some fluctuations in the United States.

However, for child obesity as well as adult obesity, rates remain high despite major policy efforts focused on children in some of the countries concerned. One-in-five children are affected by excess body weight across all countries, and in Greece, the United States, and Italy the figure is closer to one third. Only in China, Korea, and Turkey are 10 percent or less of children overweight.

Many governments have stepped up efforts to tackle the root causes of obesity, embracing increasingly comprehensive strategies and involving communities and key stakeholders. There has been a new interest in the use of taxes on foods rich in fat and sugar, with several governments (e.g. Denmark, Finland, France, Hungary) passing new legislation in 2011.


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