One-Third Of World Is Now Overweight Or Obese

Guess which countries have the highest prevalence?

A passenger waits for a delayed flight at Heathrow airport in London — REUTERS
Jun 13, 2017 at 11:20 AM ET

Obese citizens of the world now account for a larger population than that of the U.S. and Indonesia (the third and fourth most populous countries) combined, according to a new study.

The study from the New England Journal of Medicine reveals that a 2.2 billion people could be classified as obese or overweight worldwide. Over 710 million were obese, meaning 12 percent of all adults and five percent of all children have a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more. The 25 years of data used for this study reveals that obesity has doubled since 1980, something the researchers say could be the result of the way inexpensive yet nutrient-deficient processed foods spreading throughout the world.

“We have more processed food, more energy-dense food, more intense marketing of food products, and these products are more available and more accessible,” the study’s lead author, Dr. Ashkan Afshin, told the New York Times. “The food environment seems to be the main driver of obesity.”

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Another potential cause for the increase in overweight and obese global citizens may include decreased levels of physical activity — also tied to urbanization — though researchers thought it would be less likely to have as significant an impact.

Relying on estimates from 1,800 data sources, the study’s results indicate that the rates of obesity have doubled in 73 of the 195 countries included.

Egypt led the globe in terms of adult obesity at 34 percent. Unsurprisingly, the U.S. had the highest percentage of obese children, at almost 13 percent. The countries with the lowest prevalence of obesity were Bangladesh and Vietnam, where only one percent of the general population met the criteria.

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Beyond the sheer magnitude of the global issue, the research also shed light on how excess weight is affecting individual health. Researchers believe that four million people who are overweight and obese died as the result of their weight in 2015. The biggest cause of death for those included within this group is cardiovascular disease, followed by diabetes.

In some wealthy nations, like the U.S., death rates associated with obesity fell, which is likely the result of increased treatment options. People in developing countries, who now have access to more pre-packaged and unhealthy food but not this medical advantage, are likely to suffer the most going forward. For example, the fastest growing rates of unhealthily high BMIs could be seen in Burkina Faso, Guinea-Bissau, and Mali.

Going forward, researchers behind this analysis will work to inform global policy with their findings.