Pricecheck on Obesity: $2 Trillion Dollars

As published in this past Sunday’s Observer, Zoe Wood reports that “the market for products derived from the obesity ‘epidemic’ could be worth £1 trillion within four years”. That is $2 trillion in US dollars.

$2 000 000 000 000

According to the World Health Organization, almost 1/3 of the world’s population is overweight, while 400 million are clinically obese. The numbers for “first world” nations are even worse.

2005 WHO obesity estimates pegged the United States as the world’s fattest nation. (see chart below)

However, in a perverse show of nationalistic pride, a recent report by the Baker Heart Research Institute, claims that Australia has overtaken America as the world’s fattest nation.

To further cloud the issue, the WHO estimates for obesity rates in the year 2020 still show America as #1. And Australia lagging far behind.

Obviously someone has got their numbers wrong. Here are the WHO estimates.

Let’s move away from obesity for a minute. What about those individuals that are merely “overweight“.

Not obese; just fat, chubby, big boned, pleasantly plump…

According to the WHO, the world’s most overweight nations, regardless of economic, political or military dominance are:

Rank Country %
1. Nauru 94.5
2. Micronesia, Federated States of 91.1
3. Cook Islands 90.9
4. Tonga 90.8
5. Niue 81.7
6. Samoa 80.4
7. Palau 78.4
8. Kuwait 74.2
9. United States 74.1
10. Kiribati 73.6
11. Dominica 71.0
12. Barbados 69.7
13. Argentina 69.4
14. Egypt 69.4
15. Malta 68.7
16. Greece 68.5
17. New Zealand 68.4
18. United Arab Emirates 68.3
19. Mexico 68.1
20. Trinidad and Tobago 67.9
21. Australia 67.4
22. Belarus 66.8
23. Chile 65.3
24. Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of) 65.2
25. Seychelles 64.6
26. Bahrain 64.1
27. Andorra 63.8
28. United Kingdom 63.8
29. Saudi Arabia 63.5
30. Monaco 62.4
31. Bolivia 62.2
32. San Marino 62.1
33. Guatemala 61.2
34. Mongolia 61.2
35. Canada 61.1
36. Qatar 61.0
37. Uruguay 60.9
38. Jordan 60.5
39. Bahamas 60.4
40. Iceland 60.4
41. Nicaragua 60.4
42. Cuba 60.1
43. Germany 60.1
44. Brunei Darussalam 59.8
45. Slovenia 59.8
46. Peru 59.6
47. Vanuatu 59.6
48. Finland 58.7
49. Jamaica 57.4

What the heck is going on in the South Pacific? Those are some crazy obesity stats.

What about the money?

In a report issued by Credit Suisse, analysts said “The global obesity “epidemic” will have a material impact on global business strategy over the next decade. A greater awareness about its costs is not only changing society but infiltrating the business world in health care and other major industries”.

In English, “the larger a problem gets, the more attention and resources it gets”

Credit Suisse claims that the “companies best placed to benefit from the development are those devising products that either help people to lead healthier lives or that treat the symptoms of obesity”.

So who are these companies best placed to capitalize on our expanding waistlines?

As reported in the Wall Street Journal, Credit Suisse has assembled an index of 15 stocks that they feel will “experience outsized revenue and earnings growth over the next 5 years compared to their peers.”

This “Healthier Living 15″ includes:

Health Care:

  • Allergan sells a “Lap-Band” used in an increasingly popular type of obesity surgery.
  • Novo Nordisk is big in the diabetes market
  • Merck sells drugs for diabetes and high cholesterol
  • CVS may benefit by selling vitamins and prescription weight-loss drugs
  • Healthways contracts with employers and government entities to manage preventive care, among other things.


  • General Mills should benefit from a move to “healthier, more convenient foods”
  • Kellogg and Danone also make the list
  • Grocery chain Safeway, which is rolling out “lifestyle” stores

If you want a wild card, go for Kuala Lumpur Kepong, a Malaysian palm-oil company that may see an uptick in business as food makers look for alternatives to trans fats


  • Under Armour sells athletic clothing and shoes
  • Lululemon athletica sells “yoga-inspired apparel”
  • Nike is Nike
  • Dick’s Sporting Goods is a big U.S. retailer
  • Life Time Fitness, a chain of health clubs, could outcompete smaller gyms to gain market share.

So what does this mean to me?

If you are looking for a growth market to invest your life savings in, the obesity industry might a good idea. Think about it. People are getting fatter and fatter with no end in sight.

For years, authors have promised miracle diets while drug and supplement companies have given us miracle pills. And yet, we get fatter and fatter.

So, we have a marketplace that is eager to believe in miracle solutions and apparently never becomes disillusioned when they don’t work. The dieters, pill poppers and frantic exercisers just blame themselves, their poor genetics, their lack of self-discipline….and hop right back into their SUV, drive down to the mall and pick up the latest best selling diet book and wash it down with a triple Venti half-caf mocha caramel frappuchino with extra whipped cream and a dollop of irony.

Methinks $2 000 000 000 000 is a gross underestimation.


  1. those numbers are incredible. I can’t believe the amount of people. I will not allow myself to be one of those statistics. It’s out of control.

  2. The WHO can cross me off their list… Last September I had an “aha moment” and realized it was past time I dropped some excess pounds. Hadn’t even weighed myself in I-don’t-know-how-long.

    When I got on the scale and did the calculations, my BMI was 31.3, making me clinically obese. (I have to say I didn’t feel obese, whatever I thought that would feel like; but the number added jolt to the “aha.”)

    As a friend and co-worker had recently said, “Losing weight is simple, but it’s not easy.” That is, we know what we need to do, but the temptation to do otherwise is all around us, often marketed by the same corporations that will later offer us low-fat, low-cal diet foods and related products.

    I spent almost nothing extra–in fact, I saved some money on food, although I bought better, fresher ingredients, because I cooked at home more often. Instead of diet books, I bought a couple of cookbooks (off the bargain table) with recipes for healthy, largely vegetarian foods. My one “diet” book was “In Defense of Food” by Michael Pollan, which isn’t even about weight loss, simply healthier food. (His mantra: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”) Borrowed some library books for advice and recipes. I didn’t follow any particular diet plan, but later realized it strongly resembled the Mediterranean diet.

    Instead of joining a gym, I bought some inexpensive hand weights and exercise bands to use at home, and took brisk walks at the park nearby.

    Absolutely no diet drugs, just continued to take a multi-vitamin every day. It’s my placebo of choice.

    No diet sodas or other artificial sweeteners, as I have a family history of reaction to them.

    Ten months later, I’ve lost 30 pounds and my BMI is down to 26.6–still a little above the ideal, but much better than it was. And I’m not through yet.

  3. Wow, what a revolutionary concept,

    Eat a little less, make better food choices, move around more and throw in some strength training and the excess fat melts away.

    Congrats and thanks for the comment.

    Keep up the good work.

    As a further step, you may want to look at your structural balance –

    Typing away at a computer can throw your body out of alignment and lead to back/neck/shoulder pain

  4. I wouldn’t quite say “the excess fat melts away.” The first ten pounds were surprisingly easy, the next ten slow and steady…. and then I reached the dreaded plateau, and it was a struggle. Getting from 29 to 30 took two months!

    My Dad helped me put it in perspective. I was venting my frustration to him one day and he asked me, “If you didn’t lose another pound–if you stayed at 29 for the next ten years–would you consider a waste of time?”

    Well, no, of course not. I’ve improved my health and reduced the odds of getting heart disease, diabetes (which runs in his side of the family), and a host of other things. And I look good. That wasn’t the main reason, but it sure helps motivate me. (It’s like having a new wardrobe for free; I fit into things I haven’t worn in years.)

    BTW, I just discovered your blog today and have read a couple of other posts. I like “You’re Fat?… It’s Your Fault.” Maybe not entirely your fault. There are a lot of companies out there pushing things that will make you fat, and will power (or, as Mom used to call it, “won’t power”–as in “I won’t eat that donut”) is considered old-fashioned these days.

    My experience tells me that losing weight is work. It requires discipline and dedication (plain ol’ stubbornness helps), and I was fortunate to get off to a good start, which helped with motivation and believing I could do this. Also, I knew that there would be cravings and temptations, so I allow myself one “cheat/treat” a week–something not so healthy, probably more calories than its nutrient value justifies, but tasty. It has kept me from falling off completely, and also means I can go to parties and dinners with friends and not be a party-pooper, complaining about all the stuff I shouldn’t eat. (It’s not really a cheat, in the true sense, but it does feel delightfully decadent.)

  5. Karen,

    I didn’t mean to imply that your weight loss was easy. I have a good idea of the internal struggles that went on and on and on inside your head while you fought the lure of your food cravings.

    I meant to say that I was impressed by your approach to losing the excess baggage. Very sensible and very effective.

    Your dad was right as well. People do get fixated with the numbers on their scale. Improved health, appearance and quality of life are your true rewards.

    Thanks for the feedback

  6. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has issued new guidance recommending use of Acomplia® (rimonabant) in England and Wales, within its licensed indications, as an adjunct to diet and exercise for adults who are obese or overweight and who have had an inadequate response to, are intolerant of or are contraindicated to other anti-obesity agents that have previously been reviewed by NICE

  7. I received this spammy comment early this morning.

    I was going to immediately delete it, but I changed my mind when I realized the irony of it all.

    I write a post about how the obesity industry is going to be worth $2 trillion in four years and I get spammed by some jerk / self starter trying to push a highly questionable diet drug on an unsuspecting internet audience.

    The spam originated from this WordPress site, which pointed to this sales site.

    Here is some info on Acomplia (rimonabant)

    News article
    New England Journal of Medicine

  8. These numbers are sobbering and as someone who is surrounded by obesity in my own extended family, it hits way too close to home.

    But what is really shocking to me are some of the “Healthier Living 15”. Lap bands…healthy???? Supplements and weightloss drugs??? Kellogs and General Mills??? And my favorite Merck. Now that is irony on steriods.

    And I personally love my fitness equipment and athletic wear…but is a shortage of treadmills or appropriate work-out gear really the problem?

    If this is really how society will approach weight-loss, I can see us continuing to get fatter.

  9. Aussie, Aussie, Aussie….

    I had never thought of rolling my life savings into the ever growing weight loss market lol but it’s a good point.

    I work with a lady thats 200kg+ and its so obvious that before exercise a form of counselling is needed.

  10. Well written article but I do not trust the WHO, UN, or any other such organization any further than I can through them. In addition I feel the BMI is a flawed scale.

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