Globalization Is Making Us Fatter

Correlation exists between economics and worldwide obesity

15/12/2014

Núria Mas, IESE Professor of Economics and Jaime Grego Chair of Healthcare Management / Photo: Archive

“‘Globesity’? The Effects of Globalization on Obesity and Caloric Intake,” a new working paper by IESE Professor Núria Mas and Joan Costa-Font of the London School of Economics, is the first report to demonstrate a significant correlation between the effects of over-eating and globalization.


Global Health Emergency

Mas and Costa-Font’s report is prescient. For the first time in human history, more people are overweight than underweight. An estimated 1.5 billion adults are considered overweight and 500 million are considered obese – a serious problem, according to the World Health Organization. The UN public health agency warns that, taken together, these two conditions are now the fifth highest risk factor for mortality. What is more, obesity is also a major cause of rising healthcare prices in advanced economies.


In-Depth Research

To help establish the root causes for this worrying trend, Mas and Costa-Font’s research had to distinguish between the various international links that we call ‘globalization’ and examine an extensive list of factors, in order to better understand how they might affect obesity. Variables they looked at included changes in GDP, income inequality levels, food prices, urbanization, education levels and population growth.


Clear Causal Links

Once the different factors were isolated and examined, the co-authors found the economic reasons for rising obesity straightforward to explain. As an example, when food prices climb, we often end up eating cheaper, more fattening items, such as junk food. However, the co-authors note that these factors, while significant, simply do not add up to explain the enormity of our obesity problem.


A Social Dimension?

Mas and Costa-Font conclude that while there is a clear link between globalization and obesity, their research does not reveal the full story. So what else is causing the world population to pile on the pounds? To get the full picture, it will be necessary to dig deep into the social dimension of globalization and ask ourselves some searching questions. For example, does watching blockbusters make you eat more than watching classic French cinema, how does being close to the global mainstream affect obesity and what might the omnipresence of mobile phones be doing to our waistlines? In short, establishing the connection between globalization and obesity is clearly going to open up a smorgasbord of research possibilities.


More information in IESE Insight

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