Forthcoming Conference on Obesity at NUIG

From Brendan Kennelly at NUIG

The Obesity Problem:

Insights and analysis from economics, medicine and public health

The Health Economics and Policy Analysis research group at NUI Galway is delighted to announce that it will host a one day conference on obesity on January 17, 2014. Obesity is a complex, interdisciplinary problem that involves genetics, physiology, the environment, psychology, and economics. Economic factors have played a significant role in the development of the obesity crisis and economics offers many insights into various solutions to ameliorate the crisis and to prevent more people from becoming obese. The conference will be of interest to researchers, clinicians and policymakers working in this area.

The keynote speaker at the conference will be Professor John Cawley from Cornell University. Professor Cawley is widely regarded as one of the world’s leading economists on this issue and we are delighted that he has agreed to attend our event. Professor Cawley’s research has covered three major issues: the economic causes of obesity; the economic consequences of obesity; and the economic analysis of interventions to reduce obesity. Professor Cawley will give an overview of his research in this area and will also participate in a roundtable discussion that will focus on policy options to reduce obesity.

The other speakers and the topics they will address will include the following:

· An overview of the extent of the obesity problem in Ireland (Professor Tim O’Brien, NUI Galway)

· Cost-effectiveness of bariatric surgery (Dr. Francis Finucane, University Hospital Galway)

· Socioeconomic inequalities in childhood obesity in Ireland (Brendan Walsh, NUI Galway)

· Exploring individual preferences for obesity treatment and willingness to pay for treatments (Michelle Queally, NUI Galway)

· Economic cost of obesity in Ireland (Dr. Anne Dee, Mid-West HSE)

· The distributional effects of a ‘fat tax’ in Ireland (Professor David Madden, University College Dublin)

Format of the conference:

9.00: Welcome

9.15 – 9.45: Overview of the obesity problem in Ireland (Tim O’Brien)

9.45 – 10.45: Economic Analysis of Obesity (John Cawley)

11.15 – 12.45: Series of presentations on ongoing work on obesity in Ireland (Michelle Queally; Brendan Walsh; Francis Finucane; John Cullinan)

2.00 – 2.20: Economic cost of obesity in Ireland (Anne Dee)

2.20 – 2.50: Distributional effects of a fat tax in Ireland (David Madden)

3.00 – 4.00: Roundtable discussion on interventions to reduce obesity

The conference will be held in the Aula Maxima at NUI Galway. For more details please contact Brendan Kennelly at or 091 493094

Registration is free but is required for catering and logistical purposes. To register, please go to

10 replies on “Forthcoming Conference on Obesity at NUIG”

What’s the true economic cost of “going large” to McDonald’s?

I know they charge, what? 30p or 50c for bigger fries and drink, but this wouldn’t appear to compensate them for the additional product provided.

Could it be that bigger portion sizes increase the size of the stomach and consequently increase your apetite generally which means more return business for McDonald’s?

If so, would the true economic cost of “going large” be a minus figure as far as McDonald’s is concerned because it increases repeat business for the basic offering?

Glad to see our academics are spending their time productively. There was I thinking if everyone just ate less, exercised more, and stopped eating food with all the ‘E’ numbers/additives then we’d make progress. Now I see that “Obesity is a complex, interdisciplinary problem that involves genetics, physiology, the environment, psychology, and economics.”. What about the political dimension? Or the statistical and mathematical dimensions (counting all those calories and carrying out surveys)? Anthropology? Feminism? This conference needs to be “inclusive”.

@ Jagdip
I would have thought the marginal cost for McDonald’s of providing the extra food and drink to “go large” is low compared to the additional revenue gained.

Almost two decades before Ray Kroc visited a restaurant in San Bernardino, California, run by brothers Dick and Mac McDonald, who stunned him with the effectiveness of their operation, George Orwell wrote in his 1937 book, ‘The Road to Wigan Pier,’ on the grim conditions of the English working class:

“The basis of their diet is white bread and margarine, corned beef, sugared tea and potato – an appalling diet. Would it not be better if they spent more money on wholesome things like oranges and wholemeal bread?…Yes it would, but the point is, no human being would ever do such a thing.…A millionaire may enjoy breakfasting off orange juice and Ryvita biscuits; an unemployed man does not…When you are underfed, harassed, bored, and miserable, you don’t want to eat dull wholesome food. You want to eat something a little bit tasty.”

It’s not only the success of restaurant junk food that has seen adult obesity rates doubling to 34% of the US adult population since 1980, while another 34% of US adults over 20 are overweight.

Over the decades, being excessively overweight became synonymous in both politics and the business world, with sloth and lack of willpower. Obesity today tends to be a particular issue for low-income people.

The last obese US president was elected in 1908 and an aspiring fat man who wants to become president may have buried his chances by apparently creating gridlock on a bridge 😆 The last time a bald man was first elected president was in 1952 🙁

The big food companies have been very effective in discovering what can make snackers in particular addictive.

Potato chips (crisps) can be particularly effective.

The Credit Suisse Research Institute’s 2013 study “Sugar: Consumption at a crossroads” found that close to 90% of general practitioners in the US, Europe and Asia believe that the sharp growth in type II diabetes and the current obesity epidemic are strongly linked to excess sugar consumption.

Almost 400m people worldwide are affected by type II diabetes – a number that is quickly rising. Not only damaging for the health of individuals, the associated costs for the global healthcare system are estimated at a staggering US$470bn every year, representing over 10% of all healthcare costs. If things don’t change, the number of people affected could be close to 500m by 2020, and costs could rise to a whopping $700bn.

The Aula Maxima sounds like a good choice of venue.

Nutrition is a class issue in the modern world. The horsemeat scandal last January really shone the spotlight on cheap food.

“Mothers from low-income groups are more likely to have children of low birthweight, who, in turn, are likely to suffer poor health and educational prospects as a result. They have more childhood eczema and asthma. They have higher rates of raised blood pressure, thanks to their processed diets. They are more likely to suffer diabetes, heart disease, vascular disease and strokes. They suffer more cancers of the lung, stomach and oesophagus. They have more cataracts caused by poor nutrition than those in other classes.”

“If animals go in through these less than pearly gates, they exit as what Professor Karel Williams, an expert on food supply chains at Manchester Business School, calls “deconstructed Euro-animals”.
Different parts are whizzed around the globe. The so-called “fifth quarter”, comprising offal, feet and other parts considered unappetising in much of Europe, are increasingly going to China.
But the bulk goes to retailers and processors across Europe, either as cuts or containers of minced meat. Explaining the difficulty of testing at this stage, one former worker depicts the scene. “You’ve got a block of frozen mush that’s maybe 2ft by 2ft by 3ft, and you’re standing in minus ten degrees temperature. People who know say you can tell the difference [between horsemeat and beef] by looking. But in these conditions?”
As befits plastic-lined boxes filled with meat, they are a commodity product and buyers want the best deal they can get. As decades of food deflation reversed course in the late 2000s – just as many of the world’s economies tipped into economic slowdown – shops have been engaged in a battle to keep consumers onside by wooing them with super-cheap food.
Prof Williams talks of trucks lined up outside abattoirs in Holland at the end of the week, with no idea where they are going until the last minute. “You buy over the phone. A chiller truck arrives. Next week you buy a different lot from someone else,” he says. “What you have is [an] endless European trade whereby bits of animals go into 40-tonne trucks.
“Buyers are scouring Europe for the best end-of-the-line deals that happen when abattoirs have too much meat,” adds the former industry executive. Each, he says, will have 10-20 abattoirs they deal with; if an abattoir has carcases it needs to shift, the manager would hit the phones. “At the value end, that’s what they would be doing.”
The kit you need to chop up chunks of meat is massive and soaks up a lot of energy. It’s not what you want in the kitchen”

And Vincent Browne has written frequently in the IT about the mortality differentials by social class in Ireland. Poor people tend to die several years younger than their more comfortable fellow citizens.

“Therefore the notion, increasingly propounded in the press and elsewhere, that sugar is an addictive substance will be music to their ears — or rather junk food to their stomachs. Not only is self-control bad for you, it has been proved (by science) to be impossible. Further good news is that fatness is genetic. To adapt Blake slightly:

Every night and every morn
Some to obesity are born.

Never has Man’s eternal urge to excuse himself received so much authoritative support.”

Obesity has crept up on us as we became more prosperous.

Number one is the lower cost of sugar and fat.
Number two is widespread ownership of cars.
Number three is school buses and public transit.
Number four is labour saving devices from egg beaters and electric drills to backhoes, front end loaders, turf cutters, farm tractors and many others.
Number five is drinking (alcohol) at home.

People who live in the inner city without a car who take public transit are slimmer than the suburbanites who commute by car.

An important factor is the amount of research going into making food taste better while making it less nutritious. My daughter was at a seminar on the weekend where a professor promoting and not having much luck getting the government to adopt a “Glycemic Index” mounted a full frontal vicious verbal attack on a government official. There is money in frankenfoods.

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