Launch of the Study: “The Heavy Burden of Obesity: The Economics of Prevention”


Speech by Angel Gurría

OECD Secretary-General

Mexico City, Mexico - 8 January 2020

(As prepared for delivery) 




Secretary Márquez, Secretary Alcocer, Ambassador Galván, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for joining us for the launch of the presentation of the OECD study, “The Heavy Burden of Obesity: The Economics of Prevention”. This is one of the public policy challenges that concerns us the most, because it has serious implications for the health and quality of life of our citizens, but also for the performance and strength of our economies.

This is one of the main health challenges facing Mexico. It also has a significant impact on our country's economic performance. The incidence of overweight and obesity among the Mexican population has reached alarming levels. We urgently need to improve and strengthen our policies, legislation, codes and regulations to combat this phenomenon. For this reason, I am very grateful to the Secretary of Economy for inviting the OECD to launch this study in Mexico.


Fighting obesity is a priority for the OECD

In 2010, the OECD launched its first major report on obesity, with one of the best titles that we have ever come up with: “Fit not Fat”. This first report sounded the alarm in all our member and partner countries, including at the global level. The warning was clear: the repercussions of obesity on health are enormous. In fact, it is one of the main risk factors for many chronic diseases, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and dementia. Accordingly, the study called for stronger policies to reduce the growing incidence of obesity.

The first study had a significant impact. Since then, we have witnessed responses at both the national and global levels. From Michelle Obama’s ambitious “Let’s Move” campaign to reduce child obesity in the United States by 5% before 2030 to the decision by the Argentine G20 Presidency to address this important issue at the G20 summit in 2018.

Despite these and other efforts, an increasing number of people in OECD countries are overweight, and this is curbing the GDP of OECD countries by an average of 3.3%. Today, around 60% of the adult population across the OECD is overweight. In fact, in 34 of the 36 OECD countries, over half the population is overweight and one in four people are obese. More seriously, the study estimates that over the next three decades overweight will cause about 92 million deaths in OECD countries. These figures are alarming.


Mexico is one of the most worrying cases

Mexico is one of the most worrying cases. About 73% of the Mexican population is overweight (compared to one-fifth of the population in 1996). Mexico has one of the highest rates of obesity in the OECD. In addition, 34% of obese are morbidly obese - the highest level of obesity. According to our projections, overweight-related diseases will reduce life expectancy in Mexico by more than 4 years over the next 30 years. This is the largest projected reduction among OECD countries. But the greatest tragedy is the growth in child obesity, which has doubled from 7.5% in 1996 to 15% in 2016.

High levels of overweight and obesity are also affecting Mexico's economic performance. Our analysis estimates that overweight and related diseases will: 1) reduce Mexico’s labour force by the equivalent of 2.4 million full-time workers per year, as people with overweight and related conditions are less likely to be employed and, if employed, tend to be less productive; 2) account for around 8.9% of health expenditure per year between 2020 and 2050; and 3) curb Mexico’s GDP by an estimated 5.3%, well above the OECD average of 3.3%, a figure that is already too high. In fact, Mexico is the OECD country where overweight, obesity and related diseases will have the greatest impact on GDP between 2020 and 2050.


It is time to increase our efforts

Mexico has taken substantial steps to address this enormous challenge. It has introduced taxes on sugary drinks and high calorie non-essential foods and it is one of only four OECD countries with mandatory front-of-pack food labelling. These policies are encouraging.

The scale of the challenge, however, calls for further action. Putting in place a comprehensive public health policy package – including menu labelling, prescription of physical activity and workplace wellness – would help tackle increasing obesity rates and save hundreds of millions of pesos a year in health costs. Prevention policies are also an excellent investment. For every peso Mexico spends on preventing obesity, there could be a return of up to 6 pesos in GDP.

Properly implemented food product reformulation could promote healthier lifestyles while gradually shifting people toward healthier diets. In Mexico, a 20% calorie reduction for foods high in sugar, salt, calories and saturated fats could prevent 1.4 million non-communicable diseases by 2050, save 1.99 billion pesos per year in health cost, and increase employment and productivity by the equivalent of 71 thousand full-time workers per year.

The study makes other recommendations such as: introducing new taxes for high-energy products or those containing specific nutrients, such as saturated fats; subsidising healthy foods, such as fruit and vegetables; and promoting changes in the food industry's product, price, packaging, and marketing strategies based on best practices. These measures could generate additional government revenue, as well as provide incentives for food manufacturers and marketers to reduce or eliminate certain ingredients in order to reduce and prevent obesity rates.

Finally, Mexico must adopt measures to monitor and evaluate policies, to ensure they are effectively designed and implemented for maximum impact.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Reducing overweight and obesity is one of Mexico's greatest challenges. The data are truly alarming. It is essential to strengthen legislation, policies, regulations, food awareness programmes and the promotion of sport, based on international best practices. We hope that this study, which we are already translating into Spanish, will be useful.

Let us work together to tackle this epidemic and put into place better policies for healthier and better lives for all Mexicans. You can count on the OECD. Thank you.



See also:

OECD work on Health

OECD work with Mexico


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