Healthcare’s biggest problem: The global obesity epidemic

How can healthcare deliver solutions at scale to solve the international obesity epidemic long-term?
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The World Obesity Federation (WOF) anticipates that by 2035, over four billion people — more than half the world’s population — will be obese. As obesity rates have been steadily rising in recent decades, along with the list of associated health issues, it has created a significant burden on healthcare systems worldwide. We believe tackling obesity head-on globally will not only help improve the health of the global population but also alleviate the significant strain that obesity and its related conditions are having on the healthcare system.

The health risks associated with obesity 

Obesity is a chronic and serious health concern with far-reaching consequences. Individuals living with obesity are predisposed to a host of comorbidities that can significantly impact their quality of life. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Cardiovascular diseases – obesity stands as a major contributor to heart diseases, including coronary artery disease, hypertension, and stroke. The excess weight places an undue burden on the heart and blood vessels, increasing the risk of life-threatening conditions.
  • Type 2 diabetes – obesity and type 2 diabetes have a well-established connection, as the accumulation of visceral fat, (fat around the abdomen), contributes to insulin resistance and disrupted glucose metabolism.
  • Sleep apnoea – obesity is a leading risk factor for obstructive sleep apnea — a condition characterised by disrupted breathing during sleep. This not only affects the quality of rest but also poses serious health risks.
  • Mental health issues – the psychological toll of obesity is substantial, with individuals often experiencing depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. Social discrimination and stigma can further compound these challenges.

The cost of obesity to the global health system

The economic impact of the obesity epidemic has been reverberating through healthcare systems at a global scale for decades. The financial strain is particularly evident in countries like the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom. However, countries like China are also grappling with rising rates of obesity and type-2 diabetes

In the United States, the annual medical costs of obesity among adults were estimated to be as high as $260.6 billion in 2016. Australia faces a similar economic challenge, with obesity-related healthcare costs reaching an estimated $11.8 in 2018, with projections suggesting this figure could be as high as $87.7 billion by 2032. These costs encompass both medical expenses as well as the economic burden related to productivity losses and disability, along with the strain on healthcare resources and services. In the United Kingdom, the indirect cost of obesity costs the National Health Service (NHS) over 2 billion pounds annually for treating obesity-related conditions. 

Japan is also grappling with the economic consequences of obesity. As the country witnesses an increase in obesity rates, healthcare costs are projected to escalate, placing additional pressure on their national health system. It might not be immediately obvious why GLP-1 medications are launching in countries like Japan, with seemingly low obesity populations. However, recognising the unique metabolic characteristics of Asian populations, particularly in the way they metabolise carbohydrates, Japan has been proactive in delivering diabetes medications tailored to their populations' specific needs. 

Japan's unique situation with type-2 diabetes

Japan's healthcare system is at the forefront of addressing the obesity-related issue of type 2 diabetes. Research suggests that Asian people may be more susceptible to developing type 2 diabetes due to differences in how they metabolise carbohydrates. As a result, Japan has prioritised the development and deployment of medications designed to manage diabetes effectively in this population.

This approach highlights the importance of considering ethnic and genetic factors in healthcare interventions. By tailoring treatments to specific populations, Japan is pioneering a more personalised and targeted approach to combating obesity-related health issues.

While the Japanese market is familiar with some models of telehealth, a more holistic approach to digital weight care is something Japan hasn’t seen yet. With our women’s clinic, Juniper focusing on a holistic approach, it was a natural next step for Juniper to move into the Japanese market. The launch of Eucalyptus Japan isn’t just about expanding our reach but addressing the critical needs of a country grappling with rising rates of obesity and diabetes. Our mission with Juniper is to deliver quality care tailored to these specific health challenges, unlocking better health outcomes for millions in Japan.

How can the healthcare industry overcome obesity in the long term? 

Addressing the obesity epidemic is a multifaceted challenge, and at its core lies the need for profound behavioural changes. As more medicated solutions emerge, it’s clear a holistic approach remains imperative for quality obesity management. Nutrition and exercise interventions need to work in cooperation with pharmacological intervention. Currently, traditional healthcare systems lack both the operational systems and high-touch technology required to implement this effectively.

At Eucalyptus, we are investing in high-touch ways to engage with patients which encourage profound, holistic behavioural change — changes that enable our patients to achieve superior weight loss outcomes, compared to clinical trial participants. Alongside their treatment, patients engage with accredited health professionals at numerous touch points throughout their program. This includes coaching from dietitians and exercise specialists, and advice on how best to manage symptoms from registered nurses, and pharmacists. Through our bespoke platform, patients can set goals and track their progress, maintaining motivation to continue with their program. We’ve designed a strength-based exercise program that can be tailored to different experience levels. It also requires little to no equipment making it highly transferable to different individuals and markets. 

This has enabled us to achieve the following at a global scale: 

  • Over 1.1 million consultations 
  • Over 300,000 kilos lost (so far) 
  • In Australia alone, we’ve saved Medicare over $40 million in consultation costs
  • Supporting patients in four markets (Australia, the UK, Germany and Japan) 

However, it’s important to recognise that behavioural changes are notoriously difficult to achieve and sustain over time. The psychological and societal aspects of obesity cannot be ignored. Long-term success in combating obesity requires a shift not only in individual habits but also in societal norms and structures.

To tackle obesity in the long term, healthcare providers need to address some of the key factors contributing to the complexity of overcoming obesity:

  • Lifestyle factors – modern lifestyles often promote sedentary behaviour and poor dietary choices. Addressing these ingrained habits necessitates a comprehensive societal shift toward healthier living. 
  • Cultural Influences – cultural norms and expectations can play a significant role in shaping dietary habits and attitudes toward body image. Recognising and challenging these cultural influences is crucial for promoting healthier behaviours. When it comes to weight control and long-term management, a low-energy diet is the most effective strategy, however, for countries like Japan, this becomes a particular challenge as diets are often higher in carbohydrates. 
  • Accessibility – the availability and affordability of healthy food options and opportunities for physical activity vary widely among populations. Initiatives that improve access to nutritious foods and create environments conducive to exercise can contribute to long-term change.
  • Psychological factors – addressing the psychological aspects of obesity, such as emotional triggers, is essential. Behavioural therapy and counselling can play a pivotal role in helping individuals adopt healthier coping mechanisms.

Prevention versus treatment

Shifting the focus from treating obesity-related conditions to preventing them will require quite a paradigm shift in the healthcare industry. Investing in preventive measures, including accessible education, is essential to have a far-reaching impact on future generations. It’s our goal to move into the preventative primary care space, with a long-term mission of helping patients improve their healthspan to live healthier, for longer. 

In conclusion, the global obesity epidemic presents a formidable challenge to healthcare systems worldwide. The associated comorbidities, staggering costs, and the unique approaches taken by countries like Japan underscore the urgency of addressing this issue. By redefining our approach to medications, focusing on prevention, and embracing the complexity of behavioural change, we can hope to turn the tide of obesity and create a healthier future for generations to come.


Justin Teo
Head of International Expansion