Global study shows obesity rates climbing worldwide
No country has witnessed a significant decline in obesity prevalence over past three decades, according to a major new analysis from the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013.
The analysis, published in the journal The Lancet on 29 May 2014, found that worldwide, there had been a startling increase in rates of obesity and overweight in both adults (28 per cent increase) and children (up by 47 per cent) in the past 33 years, with the number of overweight and obese people rising from 857 million in 1980 to 2.1 billion in 2013.
However, the rates varied widely throughout the world with more than half of the world’s 671 million obese individuals living in just ten countries—the USA (more than 13 per cent), China and India (15 per cent combined), Russia, Brazil, Mexico, Egypt, Germany , Pakistan, and Indonesia, and (listed in order of number of obese individuals).
Over the past three decades, the highest rises in obesity levels among women have been in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Honduras and Bahrain, and among men in New Zealand, Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the USA.
Australia among top three for adult obesity
In high-income countries, some of the highest increases in adult obesity prevalence have been in the USA (where roughly a third of the adult population were obese), Australia (where 28 per cent of men and 30 per cent of women were obese), and the UK (where around a quarter of the adult population were obese).
The findings come from a comprehensive new analysis of the global, regional, and national prevalence of overweight and obesity in adults aged 20 years and older and children and adolescents aged 2–19 years between 1980 and 2013.
The authors warned that the study presents a “worrying picture” of substantial rises in obesity rates across the world and said that “concerted action” was urgently needed to reverse this trend.
Led by Professor Emmanuela Gakidou from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington in the USA, a team of international researchers performed a
comprehensive search of the available data from surveys, reports, and the scientific literature to track trends in the prevalence of overweight (body mass index of 25kg/m² or higher) and obesity (BMI of 30kg/m² or higher) in 188 countries in all 21 regions of the world from 1980 to 2013.
Other key findings included:
- In the developed world, men had higher rates of obesity than women, while the opposite was true in developing countries. Currently, 62 per cent of the world’s obese people live in developing countries.
- The greatest gain in overweight and obesity occurred globally between 1992 and 2002, mainly among people aged between 20 and 40
- Especially high rates of overweight and obesity have already been reached in Tonga where levels of obesity in men and women exceed 50 per cent, and in Kuwait, Libya, Qatar, and the Pacific Islands of Kiribati, Federated States of Micronesia, and Samoa where most (more than 50 per cent) of women are obese.
- The prevalence of overweight and obesity in childhood has increased remarkably in developed countries, from 17 per cent in 1980 to 24 per cent in 2013 in boys and from 16 per cent to 23 per cent in girls.
- Similarly, in developing countries, rates have risen from roughly 8 per cent to 13 per cent in both boys and girls over the three decades.
- In 2013, the proportion of obesity in girls reached 23 per cent in Kuwait, and 30 per cent or more in Samoa, Micronesia and Kiribati, the highest levels calculated. Similar trends in obesity were found in boys, with the Pacific Islands of Samoa and Kiribati showing the greatest obesity prevalence.
- Within Western Europe, levels of obesity in boys ranged from 14 per cent in Israel and 13 per cent in Malta, to 4 per cent in The Netherlands and Sweden. Levels of obesity in girls were highest in Luxembourg (13 per cent) and Israel (11 per cent), and lowest in the Netherlands Norway, and Sweden (4 per cent).
- In developed countries, the rate of increase in adult obesity has started to slow down in the past 8 years, and there was some evidence that more recent birth cohorts were gaining weight more slowly than previous ones.
“Unlike other major global health risks, such as tobacco and childhood nutrition, obesity is not decreasing worldwide,” said Professor Gakidou. “Our findings show that increases in the prevalence of obesity have been substantial, widespread, and have arisen over a short time,” she said.
“However, there is some evidence of a plateau in adult obesity rates that provides some hope that the epidemic might have peaked in some developed countries and that populations in other countries might not reach the very high rates of more than 40 per cent reported in some developing countries,” Professor Gakidou said.
Commenting on the implications of the study, Professor Klim McPherson from Oxford University in the UK said that to prevent unsustainable health consequences, Body Mass Index (BMI) would need to return to what it was 30 years ago.
“An appropriate rebalancing of the primal needs of humans with food availability is essential, which would entail curtailing many aspects of production and marketing for food industries,” Professor McPherson said. “Lobstein calculated that to reduce BMI to 1980 levels in the UK would require an 8 per cent reduction in consumption across the country, costing the food industry roughly £8.7 billion per year,” he said.
“The solution has to be mainly political and the questions remain, as with climate change, where is the international will to act decisively in a way that might restrict economic growth in a competitive world, for the public’s health?” Professor McPherson said. “Nowhere yet, but voluntary salt reduction might be setting a more achievable trend. Politicians can no longer hide behind ignorance or confusion,” he said.