World Obesity Rates Continue to Expand

Obese and overweight people now make up almost 30 percent of the world population

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) It’s a wide world, and it’s only getting wider. Global rates of overweight and obesity have climbed steadily over the past 30 years, and not one country has been able to reverse the trend.

Several reports in the past few years have declared obesity to be a mounting health crisis. Obesity has been tied to increasing cases of diabetes, stroke and heart disease. In 2010, about 3.4 million cardiovascular-related deaths were attributed to being obese or overweight.

Confirming that the world is undergoing an obesity epidemic, a new study has found that almost one-third of the global population is now obese or overweight.

"Follow a regular exercise plan and limit calories to avoid becoming obese."

Christopher Murray, PhD, cofounder of this study and director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington in Seattle, and his colleagues have been analyzing the prevalence of overweight and obesity in children and adults across a 33-year span beginning in 1980.

During that time frame, the number of overweight and obese individuals worldwide has skyrocketed from 857 million to 2.1 billion.

Measures of excessive weight are determined by the body mass index (BMI), which defines overweight as a weight-to-height ratio that is equal to or greater than 25 but less than 30, and obese as a BMI equal to or more than 30.

Among men, the rate of overweight and obesity climbed from 29 to 37 percent, while the rate rose from 30 to 38 percent among women. These rates were highest for men in developed countries and women in developing countries.

Children and adolescents have also been putting on the pounds — overweight and obesity has increased 50 percent among this population, and children in developed countries were more likely to have excessive weight than those in developing countries.

"The rise in obesity among children is especially troubling in so many low- and middle-income countries," said Marie Ng, PhD, assistant professor of Global Health at IHME and this paper's lead author, in a press release. "We know that there are severe downstream health effects from childhood obesity, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and many cancers. We need to be thinking now about how to turn this trend around."

The study's authors noted exceptionally high rates of overweight and obesity (44 percent or higher) among people living in the Middle East and North Africa, Central America, and Island nations in the Pacific and Caribbean. In 2013, the highest rates occurred in the Middle East and North Africa, where more than 58 percent of the men and 65 percent of the women over the age of 20 were overweight or obese.

The numbers were similar in Central America, where more than 57 percent of the men and more than 65 percent of the women had become overweight or obese.

The US ranks as one of the top countries with the highest number of obese residents. More than half of the world’s obese live in the US, China, India, Russia, Brazil, Mexico, Egypt, Germany, Pakistan and Indonesia.

"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,” said Dr. Murray in a statement.

This study was published in The Lancet on May 29. Funding was provided by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Review Date: 
May 28, 2014
Last Updated:
May 29, 2014