Improving Lifestyles, Tackling Obesity: the Health and Economic Impact of Prevention Strategies, OECD Health Working Paper no. 48

Preventing obesity

The spread of unhealthy diets and sedentary lifestyles have led to rising rates of overweight and obesity. This has meant a greater burden of chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes.

Between 2007 and 2009, the OECD and the World Health Organization undertook an economic analysis of strategies for preventing chronic diseases linked to poor diets, sedentary lifestyles and obesity. As the graph shows, the most efficient interventions are found outside the health sector, in food advertising and in school-based programmes. But healthcare systems can make the largest impact on obesity and related chronic conditions by focusing on individuals at high risk. Interventions targeting younger age groups are efficient in the long term, but they will not have significant health effects for many years.

Most of the preventive measures evaluated as part of the project were shown to be cost-effective, particularly when compared to situations with no systematic preventive measures in place and chronic diseases are treated as soon as they are diagnosed. Since prevention does not always generate reductions in health expenditure, governments should determine what levels of resources they are willing and able to spend on prevention campaigns and use evidence on cost-effectiveness to determine what range of measures would make the best use of the budgets available.

© OECD Observer 2011

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