According to a report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the Great Recession that began in 2008 may have worsened obesity rates in developed nations, including some groups in the United States.
The organization is composed mostly of wealthy nation, such as the U.S. and European countries. But their relative prosperity didn’t keep obesity from spreading during a time of profound economic turmoil. According to researchers, the downturn likely led to consumers turning from healthy but expensive foods (such as fresh fruits and vegetables) to cheap and unhealthy options.
“The economic crisis is likely to have contributed to further growth in obesity,” the group wrote in the report.
This effect was most noticeable in countries that fared the worse during the recession. But even in countries that did relatively well, at-risk groups such as women and the poor were still more likely to become obese.
There were some glimmers of good news in the report, however. Over the past half-decade, the increase of obesity has slowed down in the most developed countries. Canada, South Korea and Italy, for example, have seen little change. Australia, France and Switzerland, on the other hand, have faced up to 3 percent annual increases.
Obesity presents severe public health challenges. Without changing course, more and more people in countries around the world will be dealing with cardiovascular diseases and diabetes. And the myriad costs associated with these conditions hit government health care plans, local economies and individuals alike.
The OCED stressed the need for governments to promote healthy eating habits. It said that carefully targeted taxes on certain food and drinks could play a role as well. Whatever course countries decide on, it said, they need to play a role in keeping their citizens at healthy weights.
“The economic crisis may have contributed to a further growth in obesity, but most governments need to do more to stop this rising tide,” said Michele Cecchini, an OECD health policy analyst.