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.



The OECD is a global leader in modelling public health threats and in evaluating the return on investment of innovative policy options to tackles these threats. The family of OECD models to support Strategic Public Health Planning (SPHeP) are designed to inform and support the decision-making process in countries at all levels of income and for all the key public health risks, including unhealthy lifestyles, non-communicable diseases and infectious diseases.


UNIATF/OECD WORK ON Responding to the Challenge of NCDs


The OECD is one of the 42 intergovernmental organisations part of the United Nations Inter-Agency Task Force on the Prevention and Control of Non-communicable Diseases (UNIATF). UNIATF was established in 2013 to coordinate the activities of the UN System and other relevant intergovernmental organisations to support the realisation of the commitments made by Heads of State and Government in the 2011 Political Declaration on NCDs. Joint activities included in the work plan of the Task Force are additive to various, more comprehensive efforts conducted by the individual organisations to prevent and control NCDs. These joint activities offer important opportunities to address cross-cutting issues and to advance capacity and learning in countries.



Related PROJECTS AND documents

Working Papers



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