Overweight, which includes obesity, affects over half of all men and women in OECD countries. Although the causes of weight gain are multifaceted and complex, changes to what people eat and levels of physical activity are the two leading factors.

People living with overweight are at greater risk of developing non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers. Such diseases are associated with greater health care use leading to higher health expenditure. Overweight also worsens workforce productivity, for example through higher rates of absenteeism. Previous OECD analyses show that gross domestic product would be 3.3% lower per year on average across OECD countries due to the combined effect of lower workforce productivity and life expectancy, see The Heavy Burden of Obesity: The Economics of Prevention.

This report is part of the OECD’s work on promoting best practices in public health in OECD and EU27 countries. It aims to help countries improve their response to high rates of overweight by examining the potential to scale-up and transfer best practice interventions. Interventions included in the report range from those targeting individual behaviour, such as lifestyle counselling programmes, to those that change the environment in which people live, such as community-based programmes.

Examinations involved an assessment of the intervention against validated best practice criteria outlined in the OECD Guidebook on Best Practices in Public Health. The set of criteria includes effectiveness, efficiency, equity, the quality of the evidence-base, and the extent of coverage, as well as an assessment of the intervention’s potential to be transferred to another region.

Drawing upon key findings from an examination of selected interventions, this report outlines five ways policy makers can improve their response to high rates of overweight and obesity:

  • Create comprehensive policy packages that include interventions covering a range of settings – such as schools, primary care and the community – as well as population groups

  • Target the needs of disadvantaged groups such as those with a lower socio-economic status, for example by adapting interventions to the needs of these groups

  • Boost participation in weight reduction programmes using several strategies such as providing social support and asking participants to set goals targeting behaviour change

  • Adequately resource transfer and scale-up efforts for example to develop implementation material outlining key steps and “lessons learnt” from previous implementation efforts

  • Provide incentives that strengthen evidence-based research such as setting minimum evidence-based standards when determining which interventions to transfer or scale-up.

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