7.7 What are the societal and economic consequences of malnutrition in all its forms?

7.7.1 Socio-economic costs of undernutrition

Global socio-economic costs of undernutrition remain high

Undernutrition causes physical and cognitive impairments, loss of economic productivity and increased related health costs.

Loss of economic productivity from undernutrition and micronutrient deficiency is estimated to amount to 2-3% of global GDP, between $1.4-2.1 trillion. Good nutrition is obviously a requirement for health and well-being, and additionally for economic and labour productivity.

Improvements in nutrition can raise economic productivity and help to break poverty cycles: healthy mothers tend to have healthier babies. Healthy adults can work more, increasing their incomes and enabling them to spend more on education and health-care.

7.7.2 Economic costs of overconsumption

The global economic cost of obesity is significant and rising


McKinsey report (2014)
Global economic impact of obesity is around $2 trillion – 2.8% of global GDP
 

The global economic impact from obesity is roughly $2.0 trillion, or 2.8 percent of global GDP, roughly equivalent to the global impact from smoking or armed violence, war, and terrorism.

The McKinsey report estimates that the health-care costs to developed countries of treating obesity are estimated at between 2 and 7 percent of health-care spending. If indirect costs – e.g. the costs of treating related diseases such as Type 2 diabetes and heart disease are included, then the costs rise to about 20 percent. 

Whilst these costs are high in developed countries, they are increasingly significant in developing countries too.

In China in 2003, 3.7% of total national medical costs were attributable to overweight and obesity; this proportion is likely to have risen since then but is already greater as a percentage of total health expenditure than in Australia and Canada.

Economic costs for diabetes (see earlier in this chapter for associations between eating habits and Type 2 diabetes) were estimated to be $245 billion in 2012 for the US, a 41% increase from 2007 estimates.

In the UK, estimated annual costs of treating Type 2 diabetes are £8.8 billion, predicted to rise to £16.9 billion by 2035. Diabetes UK (2014) The cost of diabetes, available here.

Indirect costs to the economy from related factors, such as work sickness and loss of productivity are additional to this, and could be higher still.

7.7.3 Social costs of related non-communicable diseases

Social costs of related diseases are high: the example of Type 2 diabetes in the UK

  • Diabetes accounts for around 23,300 premature deaths in England every year, most of which will be attributable to Type 2 diabetes (owing to its considerably higher prevalence than Type 1).
  • Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness in people of working age in the UK.
  • Over 100 amputations are carried out every week on people with diabetes because of complications connected with their condition. Up to 80 per cent of these are preventable.

7.7.4 Socio-economic costs of the nutrition transition: China as an example

  • Social costs of the nutrition transition in developing countries: the example of China

  • Over recent decades there has been a huge reduction in hunger in China, although 90-130 million poor people (6-8% of the population) are still food insecure and at risk of, or suffering from, malnutrition.
  • However, there has been an increase in obesity and other related diseases. In 2003, 3.7% of total national medical costs were attributable to overweight and obesity; this proportion is likely to have risen since then, but is already greater as a percentage of total health expenditure than in Australia and Canada.