The world is expanding, but unfortunately it’s not the global economy whose waistline needs to go up a size.
The rate of worldwide obesity has been marching higher at an extraordinary rate for more than three decades now. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, known as the OECD, fewer than one in 10 people were considered obese in 1980. As of 2011, 19 of the 34 OECD countries have a majority of their population that’s either overweight (defined as a body mass index above 25) or obese (a BMI of more than 30).
A growing problem
The reason for higher obesity rates is pretty simple among the world’s economic powerhouses: living conditions, education, and incomes have been improving. Certainly the diverse eating habits of different cultures has some bearing on this as well, but the trend has been unmistakably higher across all OECD countries.
As of the OECD’s most recent data available, here are the nine most obese countries in the world:
The concern with obesity is that it puts people at higher risk of developing certain cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and even certain types of cancer. Even more than that, it can affect those around you vis-a-vis health care costs. Obesity-related costs are responsible for 1%-3% of all health expenditures in most countries, with that figure jumping to somewhere in the 5%-10% range for the U.S. which tops the list of most obese nations. Furthermore, if you add in the lost production caused by obesity-related ailments on top of these health care costs, obesity costs are more than 1% of the total U.S. GDP!
These nine countries and their inhabitants really have two choices: be proactive or reactive.
The proactive response
Being proactive is the simple act of people making a conscientious choice to live a healthier lifestyle. This approach is accomplished by exercising on a regular basis and eating more nutritious foods, as well as by government agencies encouraging healthier lifestyles for its citizens.
You might think that gyms would offer an interesting investment opportunity in a situation like this, but customer loyalty is historically very poor. The smart way to play a proactive lifestyle change from an investment perspective is to target organic and natural food companies. Whole Foods Market (NASDAQ:WFM), for instance, has built its success upon offering locally grown natural and organic foods to consumers. Although organic foods cost more than what you’d find at your traditional grocery store, they are often more nutritious. You’ll also find that consumers are more than willing to pay more for food if they know it’s better for them.