McKinsey Institute: How the world could better fight obesity

McKinsey Institute: How the world could better fight obesity

Obesity is a critical global issue that requires a comprehensive, international intervention strategy.


Much of the global debate on this issue has become polarized and sometimes deeply antagonistic. Obesity is a complex, systemic issue with no single or simple solution. The global discord surrounding how to move forward underscores the need for integrated assessments of potential solutions.

A new McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) discussion paper, Overcoming obesity: An initial economic analysis, seeks to overcome these hurdles by offering an independent view on the components of a potential strategy.


The main findings of the discussion paper include:

  • Existing evidence indicates that no single intervention is likely to have a significant overall impact.
  • Education and personal responsibility are critical elements of any program aiming to reduce obesity
  • No individual sector in society can address obesity on its own


Read the full paper here.

Holistic approach needed for a complex problem

Holistic approach needed for a complex problem

Claudia Wüstenhagen, writing in German daily Zeit investigates possible solutions in the context of Germans getting fatter.

The article contrasts the attempts by health experts’ PR campaigns against the marketing power of the food industry, and reviews the “naturally attractive” response of national governments – taxation.

However, the article promotes a holistic view – if taxation was an option, it would have to be one building block in a raft of policy efforts to address obesity – “a complex social problem with many causes”. There is little empirical evidence that a tax on sugar or fat actually make people eat ‘healthier’ which should be the end result. The fact that when a tax on saturated fat was introduced in Denmark, Danish consumers crossed the border to buy their groceries in Germany illustrates the complexity of not only eating, but purchasing habits that must be considered.

The education of children at an early age is important, and the article reports on a ‘nutritional driver’s licence’ scheme to educate children in schools – making healthy options available to children in schools is also a necessity if these lessons are to be put into practice.

The fact that modern society “promotes obesity” according to Anja Kroke, Professor of Public Health Nutrition from the University of Fulda is at the centre of the problem. Until a coherent set of policies is considered – access to sports facilities, ability to cycle, children watching television, subsidies for meat production – little will change.

Indeed, piecemeal attempts through taxation will not achieve any significant societal change.

You can read the full article here at

A narrow escape provides time to learn lessons

A narrow escape provides time to learn lessons

A ‘sugar tax’ on soft drinks was narrowly excluded from the Irish budget for 2013, although the issue remains on the table according to key support Health Minister Reilly. Gillian Hamill of – leading Irish retail and grocery business publication – writes on the potential consequences of adopting such discriminatory measures.

Ms. Hamill highlights Finance Minister Noonan’s reasoning for rejecting the tax – that soft drinks already carry 23% VAT, whilst neither water nor milk are subject to VAT; and the fact that the tax, which would have added 20c to a bottle of soft drink, would have been likely absorbed by retailers.

On the link between soft drinks and obesity: “The wisdom of singling out soft drinks in the fight against the country’s rising obesity levels has also been questioned.” It is internationally accepted that the causes obesity and nutrition-related NCDs are multi-faceted.

Overall, the article advocated for ‘learning the lessons’ of the Danish u-turn on its ‘fat tax’ and using this period – whilst there is no immediate threat on the horizon – to use existing research to develop science-based obesity-management policies that will actually work.

To read the article in full, follow this link.


Food tax – a weapon of mass reduction?

Food tax – a weapon of mass reduction?

Taxing food to combat obesity is based on assumptions of human behaviour – says Chief Executive of the Irish Food Safety Authority Alan Reilly.

The underlying rationale of food taxes is that by taxing the less healthy ingredients in foods, prices will rise, and consumption of these ingredients will decrease and reduction in obesity rates will follow. That is a lot of assumptions. Human behaviour is harder to predict.

Mr. Reilly highlights the many problems of trying to use tax to shape consumer behaviour – producers absorbing prices, special offers, brand loyalty, cross-border shopping and the fact that even if a switch is made, there is no guarantee that consumers will switch to a healthier food. As well as the economic impacts – for the economy at large and the impact on the purchasing power of low-income households.

With soft-drinks becoming the focus for such taxes, Mr. Reilly questions whether this is backed up by evidence.

“Data from the National Food Consumption Study carried out by the Irish Universities Nutrition Alliance (IUNA) show that sugar-sweetened beverages contribute less than 4% of the total energy intake of Irish consumers.”

Alternative solutions are possible – making the healthy choice the cheaper option, reformulation, and alternate technologies.

“Obesity is a multi-faceted problem, and requires multi-dimensional interventions but ones which we can be certain will have the desired outcome.”

You can read the full article in the FSAI newsletter by following this link.

Irish researchers share insights on obesity and NCDs

Irish researchers share insights on obesity and NCDs

The Association for the Study of Obesity on the Island of Ireland is holding its inaugural meeting this week – to be discussed are a range of obesity-related topics including obesity management, obesity and pregnancy and socio-economic factors, as reported by the Irish Times.

In terms of socio-economic imbalance research from the Economic and Social Research Institute found that ‘working class’ girls were almost 40% more likely to be overweight than their peers in ‘professional’ households.

On physical activity, leading physiotherapist Dr. Colin Dunlevy berated “bootcamp” reality shows for making losing weight through exercise look too hard; with beginning a regime a key barrier for overweight individuals to lose weight.

Professor Martin Caraher (City University London) argued that the solutions to obesity are not to be found in health policy alone – joined up policy linking health, finance, agriculture and planning all play a role. Inequality is a key driver of obesity and other nutrition-related chronic diseases.

You can read the full article by following this link.