More than 2.2 billion people around the world — about a third of the planet’s population — are estimated to be overweight. And 10 percent of the global population is considered obese.
That’s according to a new comprehensive report published in the New England Journal of Medicine by researchers from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.
The team of researchers examined data from 68.5 million people in 195 countries and territories from 1980 through 2015 and found that since 1980, obesity rates in 70 countries have doubled.
Being overweight is defined as having a body mass index between 25 and 29.9. Obese individuals have a BMI above 30.
In 2015, according to the study, there were 107 million children and 603 million adults with obesity. That same year, having a high BMI accounted for 4 million deaths, and more than two thirds of BMI-accounted deaths were due to heart disease.
The largest contributors to weight-related deaths between 1980 and 2015 were heart disease, diabetes, kidney diseases, cancers and musculoskeletal disorders.
But the most “worrisome” finding, according to researchers, was that the rate of childhood obesity surpassed the adult obesity rate in many of the world’s countries since 1980.
Overweight children are at higher risk for the early onset of diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and chronic kidney disease.
The United States had the highest rate of childhood obesity in the world at nearly 13 percent. Egypt topped the list for obese adults at approximately 35 percent.
- 35.2 percent of adult population was overweight
- 30.5 percent of adults were obese
- 17.1 percent of adolescents were overweight
- 12.7 percent of adolescents were obese
- 15 percent of children ages 2-4 in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program were overweight
- 13.4 percent of children ages 2-4 years in WIC were obese
The findings offer “a discouraging reminder that the global obesity epidemic is worsening in most parts of the world and that its implications regarding both physical health and economic health remain ominous,” the team wrote in a statement.
In the United States, there has been a plateau in the prevalence of obesity and diagnosed diabetes in recent years, and people are consuming fewer calories and sugary drinks, as well as increasing their levels of physical activity.
But, the researchers noted, the country’s increase in childhood obesity could potentially lead to future complications and negative shifts in health trends.
“People who shrug off weight gain do so at their own risk—risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and other life-threatening conditions,” study co-author Christopher Murray said in a statement. “Those half-serious New Year’s resolutions to lose weight should become year-round commitments to lose weight and prevent future weight gain.”
While the study didn’t explicitly examine the drivers of these health trends, researchers cite the prevalence of junk foods as major contributors and recommend global policymakers to improve school lunches, reevaluate junk food ads aimed at children, consider taxing junk foods and create incentives to encourage healthy eating habits.
The team plans to continue to monitor weight-related trends and work with scientists and lawmakers to address the problem.