Nearly 30% of the world’s population is either obese or overweight, according a study conducted by an international consortium of researchers led by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington.
The study, a first-of-its kind, analyzed the trend data from 188 countries, and realized that the rise in global obesity rates over the last three decades has been substantial and widespread, presenting a major public health epidemic in both the developed and the developing world.
The report of the study issued by IHME defined overweight as having a Body Mass Index (BMI), or weight-to-height ratio, greater than or equal to 25 and lower than 30, while obesity is defined as having a BMI equal to or greater than 30.
Health risks such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, osteoarthritis, and chronic kidney disease increased when a person’s BMI exceeds 23.
The study revealed that rates of overweight and obesity among adults have increased for both men (from 29% to 37%) and women (from 30% to 38%).
In developed countries, men had higher rates of overweight and obesity, while women in developing countries exhibited higher rates.
Also, in developed countries, the peak of obesity rates was seen moving to younger ages.
More than 50% of the world’s 671 million obese lived in 10 countries (ranked beginning with the countries with the most obese people): US, China, India, Russia, Brazil, Mexico, Egypt, Germany, Pakistan, and Indonesia.
The US, United Kingdom, and Australia were among the high-income countries with large gains in obesity among men and women.
The study also revealed that over the 33-year period of research, the Middle East showed large increases in obesity. Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Kuwait were among the countries with the largest increases in obesity globally.
In six countries, all in the Middle East and Oceania – Kuwait, Kiribati, the Federated States of Micronesia, Libya, Qatar, and Samoa, the prevalence of obesity for women exceeds 50%. In Tonga, both men and women have obesity prevalence over 50% whilst in sub-Saharan Africa, the highest obesity rates (42%) were seen among South African women.
In 2010, obesity and overweight were estimated to have caused 3.4 million deaths, most of which were from cardiovascular causes. Research indicates that if left unchecked, the rise in obesity could lead to future declines in life expectancy.
Among children and adolescents, obesity has increased substantially worldwide. Between 1980 and 2013, the prevalence of overweight or obese children and adolescents increased by nearly 50%.
In 2013, more than 22% of girls and nearly 24% of boys living in developed countries were found to be overweight or obese.
Rates are also on the rise among children and adolescents in the developing world, where nearly 13% of boys and more than 13% of girls are overweight or obese.
Particularly high rates of child and adolescent obesity were seen in Middle Eastern and North African countries, notably among girls.
Dr. Christopher Murray, Director of IHME and a co-founder of the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) explained that obesity was an issue affecting people of all ages and incomes, everywhere.
“In the last three decades, not one country has achieved success in reducing obesity rates, and we expect obesity to rise steadily as incomes rise in low- and middle-income countries in particular, unless urgent steps are taken to address this public health crisis,” he added.
IHME is an independent global health research organization at the University of Washington that provides rigorous and comparable measurement of the world’s most important health problems and evaluates the strategies used to address them.