The incidence and cost of obesity and other metabolic syndrome conditions have grown at a startling rate over the last fifty years. It is not a rich-country problem. It is now impacting people around the world, including emerging markets, and of all ages, including children. 

According to the World Health Organization, in 2014, 462 million adults worldwide were underweight, while 1.9 billion were overweight or obese. Deaths of children due to undernutrition occur mostly in low and middle-income countries. But "at the same time, in these same countries, rates of childhood overweight and obesity are rising ."[1] according to the WHO. The number of obese children and adolescents worldwide has risen tenfold in the past four decades.[2]   

Unhealthy lifestyles and diets in modern societies have led to the wide-spread increase in metabolic syndrome diseases[3] , of which obesity is a common visible sign. Other often-chronic non-communicable diseases resulting from poor diets include diabetes, cardiovascular problems, and cancers. According to the October 2018 Fact Sheet of the WHO, the worldwide incidence of diabetes has risen from 4.7% in 1980 to 8.5% in 2014, and the growth is most rapid in middle-income and low-income countries.

This is a modern problem. Calorie consumption around the world has increased by approximately 25% per capita on average over the past 50 years[4] . At the same time, economic industrialisation and urbanisation trends have brought a radical change in the way we eat. Industrialisation has not only transformed the way farms operate, it has also brought a change in the type of food available. Food began to be transformed, through industrial processes, before reaching our plates: food producers have introduced taste enhancers such as salt, fat and sugar to make their products more attractive to consumers. This is contributing to the development of unhealthy diets on a large scale. More recently research has focused on the link between rising sugar consumption and diet-related health problems.

The cost to society is unbearable; yet it continues to rise. The WHO estimates that obesity accounts for 2%-7% of global health care[5] . Meanwhile, estimates suggest that in some developed countries, the health costs of poor diets are a full 1% to 2% of the country’s entire GDP[6] .

The problem goes beyond healthcare costs. The human cost of obesity includes 2.8 million adult deaths per year, according to the WHO[7] . Indirect economic impacts include lost productivity, reduced workforces, and reduced dexterity among the population.

As responsible investors, Candriam assesses the positioning of investee companies across several categories of factors, health and wellness among them. Unhealthy-diet-related medical issues have been debated for many years, while the impact on healthcare systems and its costs to society are also well known. We believe that addressing these issues may offer growth and profit opportunities to food companies and their investors, while benefitting society across the globe.



[1] World Health Organization, /News-room/Fact-sheets/Detail/Malnutrition, accessed 10 April, 2019.
[2] Defined as ages 4 to 19, WHO news release, 11 October 2017.
[3] Cluster of metabolic disorders that increases the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and type-2 diabetes, it is defined as occurring when an individual presents at least 3 of the following medical conditions: abdominal obesity, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high serum triglycerides, low high-density lipoprotein level
[6]  Trésor-Economics No.179 (September 2016), “What are the economic consequences of obesity and how to tackle them?”
[7]  WHO, World Health Statistics, a snapshot of global health, 2012.