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Obesity poses highest workforce risk in Mexico, USA, Russia, Egypt and South Africa – UK 8th worst in global ranking

Obesity poses highest workforce risk in Mexico, USA, Russia, Egypt and South Africa – UK 8th worst in global ranking

The negative impact of obesity on the productivity of workforces is stretching far beyond established western economies and into emerging markets, according to new research from risk analysis company Maplecroft.

The five countries rated as ‘extreme risk’ in Maplecroft’s Obesity Risk Index (ORI), which has been developed to calculate the current and emerging risks to business, are considered among the world’s most important regional markets and host significant labour forces utilised by many multinational companies.

Mexico (ranked 1st) tops the ranking of 188 countries, followed by the USA (2nd), Russia (3rd), Egypt (4th) and South Africa (5th), revealing the global nature of the problem for employers who are increasingly affected by rising obesity levels and loss of productivity, due to health-related absences from work.

The USA is the only western economy in the ‘extreme risk’ category, while obesity in the UK (8th and ‘high risk’) poses the most risk in respect of any country in Western Europe, ahead of Germany (12th) and Spain (13th).

The Obesity Risk Index ranks countries by incorporating data on the total number of obese and overweight people in a country, as well as considering these as a proportion of the population. The index differs from other global rankings by also incorporating emerging risk factors, including an evaluation of urbanisation, income growth and populations’ changing body mass.

Maplecroft states that the obesity epidemic is having an increasing impact on the productivity of labour forces worldwide and governments are becoming burdened with spiralling public health spending demands. Globally, the number of obese people has nearly doubled since 1980 to over 200 million men and nearly 300 million women over the age of 20. In 2011, the World Economic Forum estimated that the global economic cost of non-communicable diseases, many of which are associated with obesity, will reach $47 trillion by 2030.

“Obesity is no longer just a problem for the richest and most developed nations,” states Maplecroft’s Head of Maps and Indices, Helen Hodge. “As many nations develop, their populations increasingly adopt lifestyles that put them at risk of obesity and the associated health issues. If the issue is not addressed, the impact on economic output and long-term investments will be highly detrimental.”

Such a reality reflects the fast-paced social and economic changes that have occurred across much of the developing world in recent decades. In Mexico, the highest risk country in the index, tackling the nation’s severe obesity problem has become a priority public health issue. From 2000 to 2012, the combined prevalence of overweight and obese adults rose by 15.2%, according to the Mexican National Institute of Public Health, while the country’s overweight and obese population now stands at 71.3% of the total.

China (28) and India (46), two of the world’s most important growth markets, are rated as ‘high risk’ and ‘medium risk’ respectively. While the prevalence of obesity is relatively low, large and growing obese populations do exist in these countries. The World Health Organisation estimates that from 2005-2015, health conditions associated with obesity could reduce national income in China by over $500 billion and in India by $200 billion should governments fail to intervene.

Figures for western economies also reveal a worrying picture. A recent Gallup Poll estimates that in the US, the second most at risk country in the index, overweight or obese full time workers that have at least one chronic condition cost the economy US$153bn annually in lost productivity through workplace absences. A similar poll found that the health-related impact of obesity costs the UK economy £21bn per annum.

According to the OECD, 26% of the UK’s population over 15 years of age is obese and the problem looks set to worsen in the short to medium term. Projections published in medical journal The Lancet, in 2011, predict there could be 11 million more obese adults in the UK by 2030. Pressure is now growing on policy makers to take tougher action, and greater levels of government intervention into the activities of industries linked with diets and lifestyles should be expected.

“Identifying the markets where obesity poses the most risk not only arms companies with the knowledge they need to manage long-term challenges to productivity,” states Alyson Warhurst, CEO of Maplecroft,” it also enables those working in the pharmaceutical, lifestyle and food and beverage sectors to target investments aimed at tackling the problem at root cause in collaboration with governments and their public health agencies.”

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