How to get rich from the global obesity crisis

The worldwide rate of obesity more than doubled between 1980 and 2008 and over 500 million people are obese around the world today. Once confined only to wealthy countries, obesity rates are skyrocketing in developing powers like Brazil and China as well. The economic effect is substantial as well, with 21 percent of annual medical ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
PATRICK LIN/AFP/Getty Images
PATRICK LIN/AFP/Getty Images
PATRICK LIN/AFP/Getty Images

The worldwide rate of obesity more than doubled between 1980 and 2008 and over 500 million people are obese around the world today. Once confined only to wealthy countries, obesity rates are skyrocketing in developing powers like Brazil and China as well. The economic effect is substantial as well, with 21 percent of annual medical spending in the United States going to obesity related illness.

But what does it mean for your portfolio? A new Bank of America/Merrill Lynch Global Research report looks at how investors can take advantage of what they call the "globesity" trends. Opportunities include: 

Pharmaceuticals and Health Care: We look at companies taking advantage of the FDA's increased support for obesity drug development. We also highlight companies tackling related medical conditions and needs including diabetes, kidney failure, hip and knee implants. We also consider equipment such as patient lifts, bigger beds and wider ambulance doors. Food: We position companies on their efforts to access the $663 billion “health and wellness” market, as well as on how they are reformulating their portfolios to respond to increasing pressure such as “fat taxes” to reduce sugar and fat levels. Commercial Weight Loss, Diet Management and Nutrition: Up to 50 percent of some western populations pursue dieting, targeted nutrition and behavioral change making it a $4 billion market in the U.S. and growing globally. Sports Apparel and Equipment: This is the longer-term play, but we believe that promoting physical activity will become a key priority for more government health policies.

The worldwide rate of obesity more than doubled between 1980 and 2008 and over 500 million people are obese around the world today. Once confined only to wealthy countries, obesity rates are skyrocketing in developing powers like Brazil and China as well. The economic effect is substantial as well, with 21 percent of annual medical spending in the United States going to obesity related illness.

But what does it mean for your portfolio? A new Bank of America/Merrill Lynch Global Research report looks at how investors can take advantage of what they call the "globesity" trends. Opportunities include: 

  • Pharmaceuticals and Health Care: We look at companies taking advantage of the FDA’s increased support for obesity drug development. We also highlight companies tackling related medical conditions and needs including diabetes, kidney failure, hip and knee implants. We also consider equipment such as patient lifts, bigger beds and wider ambulance doors.
  • Food: We position companies on their efforts to access the $663 billion “health and wellness” market, as well as on how they are reformulating their portfolios to respond to increasing pressure such as “fat taxes” to reduce sugar and fat levels.
  • Commercial Weight Loss, Diet Management and Nutrition: Up to 50 percent of some western populations pursue dieting, targeted nutrition and behavioral change making it a $4 billion market in the U.S. and growing globally.
  • Sports Apparel and Equipment: This is the longer-term play, but we believe that promoting physical activity will become a key priority for more government health policies.

All seems pretty sound. Though it might also be worth keeping a position in Big Gulps as a hedge just in case there’s a backlash to the backlash.

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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