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Healthy choices, OECD health ministerial meeting: Session 2, Paris 7 - 8 October 2010


Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)

Topic: Causes
Chronic Conditions
Health Economics (Draft)
Health Inequalities
Chronic Conditions
Health Inequalities
Type: Report - meeting
Region: Europe

Conclusions from the OECD meeting: Tackling chronic diseases through interventions aimed at modifying lifestyle risk factors is possible and cost-effective, and it is likely to decrease health inequalities within countries. However, turning the tide of diseases that have assumed epidemic proportions during the course of the 20th century requires fundamental changes in the social norms that regulate individual and collective behaviours. Such changes can only be triggered by wide ranging prevention strategies addressing multiple determinants of health in a wide-range of social groups. Curbing obesity is now a leading public health priority in OECD countries. Although the most efficient interventions for this purpose are outside the health sector, health care systems can have the largest impact on obesity and related chronic conditions by focusing on individuals at high risk. The growth in childhood obesity has gloomy implications for public health in the future. Interventions targeting younger age groups are unlikely to have visible health effects at the population level for many years. Nevertheless, countries face a policy imperative to protect children from adult lifestyle changes and make healthier lifestyles more viable. All countries are putting efforts into improving health education and information. Evidence suggests, however, that these are unlikely to have a major impact on obesity, nor are they particularly cost-effective. More stringent measures, such as regulation of advertising or fiscal measures, are more intrusive on individual choices and more likely to generate conflict among relevant stakeholders, but are also likely to weigh less on public finances and to produce health returns more promptly. Getting doctors and other professionals involved in primary care to make greater efforts to counsel those whose behaviours put them at risk has the biggest effect on obesity, but tends to be expensive. Careful targeting of such efforts is necessary.Hence a successful strategy to tackle obesity will, at the least, have to protect children, inform adults and target extra efforts at those most at risk. It may well need to go further in trying to influence adult behaviour, if this is politically acceptable. How should such efforts be structured? In light of the (eventually) successful attempts to limit smoking, it is tempting to think in terms of regulating advertising, taxing consumption, and banning the most harmful sorts of consumption. However, there are good reasons to think that such an approach will work much less well in the case of altering food consumption. For example, taxing or regulating just one type of product might lead people to switch consumption patterns with little effect on overall health; people who exercise more will be able to consume more calories without adverse effects on their health – why should they be penalised? There are many other ways in which the conditions which led to the assault on tobacco being successful are absent when considering the much more complicated issue of controlling obesity.



Rights: © OECD
Suggested citation:

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). (2010) Healthy choices, OECD health ministerial meeting: Session 2, Paris 7 - 8 October 2010 [Online]. Available from: [Accessed: 15th November 2019].


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