How to Profit From Increasing Obesity: Sanofi SA (ADR) (SNY), Novo Nordisk A/S (ADR) (NVO), Covidien plc (COV)

Funnily enough, I think that long term investors should be investing in the long term. In this article I’m going to discuss obesity, its prevalence and suggest some of the stocks that might be bought and avoided as a consequence.

Obesity Prevalence

Everyone loves looking at a national league table in order to compare and contrast, and the evidence from the OECD is clear: The US, Canada, Mexico and the UK are right at the top of the developed world obesity league. There are other countries like Hungary, Greece, Estonia and the Czech Republic that have higher than OECD average obesity rates. But there are two unique features that these countries have in common with each other but not with the UK and US.

Firstly, in the US and UK there is a tendency for women to have notably higher rates of obesity than men whereas in the other higher obesity countries (apart from Mexico, Chile and Ireland) the rates tend to be similar. Second, there is a tendency for women in the UK and US to be obese earlier on in life and stay that way.

Before looking at the chart demonstrating these points please understand that the data was pulled from two separate sources and for slightly different age groups so it is not directly comparable. No matter, the important point is the trend. The US data was sourced from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention while the European data comes from the EU, and the US data is for the 20-39 year old range.

The key is that there is no great quantum leap within obesity rates between young and old in the UK and US, while the evidence suggests that in other European countries women tend to experience a ‘natural’ step up in weight gain as they get older. UK and US women seem to get obese at an earlier age.

To demonstrate this I’ve tabulated the ratio of overall female obesity rates and divided them by the 18-24 year old rates. A low ratio indicates the tendency for women to be obese at an earlier age and stay that way.

Based on the data above I think it is safe to assume that the US ratio would be similar to the UK. Note that Romania, Greece, Hungary and Poland have high ratios. They are countries where women are slimmer earlier on.

Why the Focus on Women?

Before the complaints come in I should explain that I am focusing on women (even though global trends with men and women are pretty similar) in order to highlight some remarkable data. According to the OECD data, US women are noticeably more obese then the men, but it is not even comparable to the huge divergence in the UK.

A quick breakdown of the stats for the UK demonstrates the point:

There is clearly some factor responsible for UK and US women being more obese at an earlier age. As for UK men, if you go back to the second chart their ratio works out to be bang in the middle.

I can’t give a definitive verdict but allow me to humbly speculate that both countries have a similar income distributions with net worth skewed to upper deciles, and both have strong feminist influences in the media and within their welfare states. I think the solution involves a little bit more than getting Jamie Oliver to run around and introduce more broccoli into school meals.