As published in this past Sunday’s Observer, Zoe Wood reports that “the market for products derived from the obesity ‘epidemic’ could be worth £1 trillion within four years”. That is $2 trillion in US dollars.

$2 000 000 000 000

According to the World Health Organization, almost 1/3 of the world’s population is overweight, while 400 million are clinically obese. The numbers for “first world” nations are even worse.

2005 WHO obesity estimates pegged the United States as the world’s fattest nation. (see chart below)

However, in a perverse show of nationalistic pride, a recent report by the Baker Heart Research Institute, claims that Australia has overtaken America as the world’s fattest nation.

To further cloud the issue, the WHO estimates for obesity rates in the year 2020 still show America as #1. And Australia lagging far behind.

Obviously someone has got their numbers wrong. Here are the WHO estimates.

Let’s move away from obesity for a minute. What about those individuals that are merely “overweight“.

Not obese; just fat, chubby, big boned, pleasantly plump…

According to the WHO, the world’s most overweight nations, regardless of economic, political or military dominance are:

Rank Country %
1. Nauru 94.5
2. Micronesia, Federated States of 91.1
3. Cook Islands 90.9
4. Tonga 90.8
5. Niue 81.7
6. Samoa 80.4
7. Palau 78.4
8. Kuwait 74.2
9. United States 74.1
10. Kiribati 73.6
11. Dominica 71.0
12. Barbados 69.7
13. Argentina 69.4
14. Egypt 69.4
15. Malta 68.7
16. Greece 68.5
17. New Zealand 68.4
18. United Arab Emirates 68.3
19. Mexico 68.1
20. Trinidad and Tobago 67.9
21. Australia 67.4
22. Belarus 66.8
23. Chile 65.3
24. Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of) 65.2
25. Seychelles 64.6
26. Bahrain 64.1
27. Andorra 63.8
28. United Kingdom 63.8
29. Saudi Arabia 63.5
30. Monaco 62.4
31. Bolivia 62.2
32. San Marino 62.1
33. Guatemala 61.2
34. Mongolia 61.2
35. Canada 61.1
36. Qatar 61.0
37. Uruguay 60.9
38. Jordan 60.5
39. Bahamas 60.4
40. Iceland 60.4
41. Nicaragua 60.4
42. Cuba 60.1
43. Germany 60.1
44. Brunei Darussalam 59.8
45. Slovenia 59.8
46. Peru 59.6
47. Vanuatu 59.6
48. Finland 58.7
49. Jamaica 57.4

What the heck is going on in the South Pacific? Those are some crazy obesity stats.

What about the money?

In a report issued by Credit Suisse, analysts said “The global obesity “epidemic” will have a material impact on global business strategy over the next decade. A greater awareness about its costs is not only changing society but infiltrating the business world in health care and other major industries”.

In English, “the larger a problem gets, the more attention and resources it gets”

Credit Suisse claims that the “companies best placed to benefit from the development are those devising products that either help people to lead healthier lives or that treat the symptoms of obesity”.

So who are these companies best placed to capitalize on our expanding waistlines?

As reported in the Wall Street Journal, Credit Suisse has assembled an index of 15 stocks that they feel will “experience outsized revenue and earnings growth over the next 5 years compared to their peers.”

This “Healthier Living 15″ includes:

Health Care:

  • Allergan sells a “Lap-Band” used in an increasingly popular type of obesity surgery.
  • Novo Nordisk is big in the diabetes market
  • Merck sells drugs for diabetes and high cholesterol
  • CVS may benefit by selling vitamins and prescription weight-loss drugs
  • Healthways contracts with employers and government entities to manage preventive care, among other things.

Food:

  • General Mills should benefit from a move to “healthier, more convenient foods”
  • Kellogg and Danone also make the list
  • Grocery chain Safeway, which is rolling out “lifestyle” stores

If you want a wild card, go for Kuala Lumpur Kepong, a Malaysian palm-oil company that may see an uptick in business as food makers look for alternatives to trans fats

Athletics:

  • Under Armour sells athletic clothing and shoes
  • Lululemon athletica sells “yoga-inspired apparel”
  • Nike is Nike
  • Dick’s Sporting Goods is a big U.S. retailer
  • Life Time Fitness, a chain of health clubs, could outcompete smaller gyms to gain market share.

So what does this mean to me?

If you are looking for a growth market to invest your life savings in, the obesity industry might a good idea. Think about it. People are getting fatter and fatter with no end in sight.

For years, authors have promised miracle diets while drug and supplement companies have given us miracle pills. And yet, we get fatter and fatter.

So, we have a marketplace that is eager to believe in miracle solutions and apparently never becomes disillusioned when they don’t work. The dieters, pill poppers and frantic exercisers just blame themselves, their poor genetics, their lack of self-discipline….and hop right back into their SUV, drive down to the mall and pick up the latest best selling diet book and wash it down with a triple Venti half-caf mocha caramel frappuchino with extra whipped cream and a dollop of irony.

Methinks $2 000 000 000 000 is a gross underestimation.