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The Obesity Epidemic: Analysis of Past and Projected Future Trends in Selected OECD Countries

Listed author(s):
  • Franco Sassi


  • Marion Devaux


  • Michele Cecchini


  • Elena Rusticelli


Registered author(s):

    This paper provides an overview of past and projected future trends in adult overweight and obesity in OECD countries. Using individual-level data from repeated cross-sectional national surveys, some of the main determinants and pathways underlying the current obesity epidemic are explored, and possible policy levers for tackling the negative health effect of these trends are identified. First, projected future trends show a tendency towards a progressive stabilisation or slight shrinkage of pre-obesity rates, with a projected continued increase in obesity rates. Second, results suggest that diverging forces are at play, which have been pushing overweight and obesity rates into opposite directions. On one hand, the powerful influences of obesogenic environments (aspects of physical, social and economic environments that favour obesity) have been consolidating over the course of the past 20-30 years. On the other hand, the long term influences of changing education and socio-economic conditions have made successive generations increasingly aware of the health risks associated with lifestyle choices, and sometimes more able to handle environmental pressures. Third, the distribution of overweight and obesity in OECD countries consistently shows pronounced disparities by education and socio-economic condition in women (with more educated and higher socio-economic status women displaying substantially lower rates), while mixed patterns are observed in men. Fourth, the findings highlight the spread of overweight and obesity within households, suggesting that health-related behaviours, particularly those concerning diet and physical activity, are likely to play a larger role than genetic factors in determining the convergence of BMI levels within households. Obésité : Analyses des tendances dans les pays de l'OCDE Ce document fournit une vue d’ensemble des tendances passées et futures des taux de surpoids et d’obésité dans les pays de l’OCDE. L’utilisation de données individuelles issues d’enquêtes transversales nationales a permis d’explorer les déterminants principaux et les cheminements sous-jacents à l’épidémie d’obésité, et d’identifier de possibles leviers politiques pour contrer les effets négatifs de ces tendances sur la santé. Premièrement, les projections futures confirment la tendance vers une stabilisation progressive voire une faible baisse des taux de pré-obésité, accompagnée d’une augmentation continuelle des taux d’obésité. Deuxièmement, les résultats suggèrent que des forces divergentes sont en jeu, poussant les taux de surpoids et d’obésité dans deux directions opposées. D’une part, la forte influence d’un environnement obésogène (les aspects de l’environnement physique, social et économique qui favorisent l’obésité) a été confirmée au cours des 20-30 dernières années. D’autre part, l’influence sur le long terme de l’évolution de l’éducation et des conditions socio-économiques a rendu les générations successives de plus en plus conscientes des risques pour la santé liés aux choix de vie, et parfois plus aptes à gérer la pression de l’environnement. Troisièmement, les distributions des taux de surpoids et d’obésité dans les pays de l’OCDE montrent de façon cohérente des disparités marquées selon l’éducation et les conditions socio-économiques chez les femmes (plus éduquées et ayant un statut socio-économique plus élevé, les femmes ont des taux considérablement plus faibles), alors que des résultats variés sont observés chez les hommes. Quatrièmement, les résultats soulignent l’étendu du surpoids et de l’obésité au sein des ménages, et suggèrent que les comportements liés à la santé en particulier ceux concernant l’alimentation et l’activité physique, jouent probablement un rôle plus important que les facteurs génétiques dans la détermination du niveau de l’IMC au sein des ménages.

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    Paper provided by OECD Publishing in its series OECD Health Working Papers with number 45.

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    Date of creation: 20 Mar 2009
    Handle: RePEc:oec:elsaad:45-en
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