Obesity has become polarized and politicized.
A new report entitled “Overcoming Obesity: An Initial Economic Analysis,” just out from NcKinsey Global Institute, which is funded by McKinsey & Company, the global management consulting firm, recognizes this.
Noting that “much of the global debate on this issue has become polarized and sometimes deeply antagonistic,” the authors modestly aspire for the report to be “like 16th-century maps” that are a “useful guide and starting point” for the years to come rather than the final word. According to the report, nearly 30 percent of the world’s population is overweight.
The report is well-worth reading. It may place too much emphasis for our taste on government-backed efforts to combat obesity, but quite refreshingly it is not dictatorial in tone and recognizes the importance of voluntary self-regulation by industries.
We were also glad to see that the Health Weight Commitment Foundation, a coalition led by CEOs who have pledged to voluntarily reduce the coloric content of popular in foods they sell (and which we’ve mentioned before), was singled out for praise. In fact, the success of HWC, with its free-market, entrepreneurial approach, was compared to a failure of former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, an exemplar of the nanny state:
According to the MGI report:
Some attempts to overcome obesity failed because they did not align with the incentives of the required participants. An example of this was the attempt by Michael Bloomberg to ban supersize beverages when he was mayor of New York. This change was blocked in the courts after extensive lobbying and legal action by the soft drink and retail industries.
Other initiatives such as EPODE, which originated in France, and the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation in the United States are leading the way in delivering integrated responses to the issue. If society is to succeed in tackling obesity, it will be necessary to find ways to build on such initiatives, to overcome misaligned incentives, and to coordinate action across a diverse set of societal sectors. The same is true of many of the public-health and environmental challenges facing us in the 21st century. In the case of regulation to reduce the incidence of smoking, it was not possible to align incentives; in the case of obesity, we believe that it might be possible.
It should be noted that Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation, which is five years old, receives no government funding.