The rate of obesity is climbing in some of the most developed countries, with women and the poor hit harder by the recent economic crisis consuming cheaper, less-nutritious food, an economic report said on Tuesday.
While rates are rising as much as 3 percent a year in countries such as Australia, France, Mexico and Switzerland, they have been fairly stable in other countries such as the United States, Canada, South Korea and Italy, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development report said.
A review of available data showed that the global recession that struck in 2008 forced many families in harder-hit nations to cut back spending on food, especially healthier but often more expensive options such as fruits and vegetables, in favor of cheaper, less healthy options, it said.
Even in nations that fared better in the economic slowdown, certain groups of people, particularly women and those who are less educated and have lower incomes, were also more likely to be obese, the OECD found.
"The economic crisis is likely to have contributed to further growth in obesity," OECD researchers wrote. Although the overall rate of obesity has slowed among more economically developed countries over the past five years, "the obesity epidemic has not stopped spreading," they added.
The new report is based on a review of data from 10 OECD countries. Most of the organization's 34 members are wealthy countries such as the United States and European nations, although some emerging economies such as Mexico and Turkey are also included. The group does not include China, India or other bigger developing countries.
Rising obesity rates can also add economic burden as governments grapple with the costs of chronic conditions linked to obesity such as diabetes, heart disease and even cancer. Current efforts aimed at preventing further weight gain, including using financial incentives to boost wellness or increasing basic health exams, are improving, OECD said.
One bright spot in the OECD's review: although on average one-in-five children in developed countries is overweight, "more countries have managed to stabilize or even slightly reduce rates of child obesity than they have of adult obesity."