Public Health


Changes in the population structure, evolving disease patterns, increasing health inequalities and a transforming environment challenge health systems. Although smoking has been declining in many OECD countries, unhealthy diets, sedentary lifestyles, hazardous alcohol use and other risk factors have spread widely, driving non-communicable diseases and mortality. To address these issues, OECD works to support the development of well-concerted population approaches under strong public health systems.

Our work explores major risk factors including obesity, diet, physical activity, alcohol consumption, tobacco and environmental risks. We study the spread of these risk factors in populations, past and projected future trends, inequalities by socioeconomic status and the determinants underpinning these risk factors. Moreover, we identify effective and efficient policies to tackle risk factors and prevent major non-communicable diseases (NCDs). We produce evidence of the health and economic impacts of alternative approaches, through modelling and identification of best practices.

Public Health

Obesity, unhealthy diet and physical inactivity

The majority of the population, and one in five children, are overweight or obese in the OECD area. The obesity epidemic has spread further in the past five years, but rates have been increasing at a slower pace than before. 


Harmful alcohol consumption

Alcoholic beverages, and their harmful use, have been familiar fixtures in human societies since the beginning of recorded history. Worldwide, alcohol is a leading cause of ill health and premature mortality, and its social costs are significant. 

Pollution and environment

Air pollution, an important source of environmental stress, affects health outcomes directly, for example as a risk factor for respiratory and cardiovascular conditions, or indirectly, such as through the impacts on climate change and higher probability of extreme weather events. 


Antimicrobial resistance

Antimicrobial resistance is rapidly becoming a top health problem that could pose a significant challenge to the functioning of healthcare systems and their budget in OECD and G20 countries. 


Opioids use has dramatically increased in some OECD countries, both of prescribed and illicit opioids. This has led to a sharp upsurge in addiction and overdose deaths, with serious social and economic consequences. The OECD is analysing the opioids epidemic and exploring several policy strategies that can help countries address the issue. 


Public health reviews

We work with OECD member countries to assess and improve their public health actions through country reviews. Public health reviews provide a snapshot of the organisation of public health systems, primary and secondary prevention policies, and address issues like workforce, financing, leadership and governance. They provide advice to policy makers on best actions to prevent diseases and tailor OECD ‘best practices’ to their national context.



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