According to a brand new study, the global prevalence of obesity is on the rise – and this seems to be true of men and women, adults and children, and those in developed and developing countries. But there are some interesting differences according to country, age, and gender and even some potentially positive news.
The results come from a massive study just published in the journal Lancet assessing the worldwide change in the prevalence of people who are overweight or obese (BMI≥25kg/m2). By massive, I’m referring to the fact that this study used data from a whopping 1769 individual studies from 183 countries. That alone is an impressive feat.
Let’s dig a bit deeper into the study findings, shall we?
Globally, between 1980 and 2013, the proportion of men who were overweight or obese increased from 28.8% to 36.9%, while the proportion of women in this category increased from 29.8% to 38.0%.
Across time, the prevalence of overweight/obesity was higher in developed than in developing countries across all ages.
For instance, in 2013, the US accounted for 13% of all obese people worldwide! This is a tremendous statistic given that the US accounts for approximately 4.4% of the world’s population.
Interestingly, more men than women were overweight and obese in developed countries like the US and Canada, whereas the opposite was true in developing countries (overweight and obesity was more prevalent in women).
The rates of overweight and obesity peaked in men at about 55 years of age; meanwhile the peak age in women was approximately 60 years.
And adults weren’t the only ones putting on the pounds; rates of excess weight in children and adolescents also increased. Between 1980 and 2013 in developed countries, the prevalence of overweight and obesity has increased from 16.9% to 23.8% among boys and from 16.2% to 22.6% among girls.
While the greatest increase in obesity prevalence occurred between 1992 and 2002, this trend has tapered down in the past decade, particularly in developed countries.
That is, as a species, we’re still getting fatter, albeit at a slower pace.
This was the good news I was referring to above. Not the most encouraging, but given the barrage of negative news regarding the obesity pandemic, I’ll take what I can get.
Excess weight has previously been estimated to cause 3.4 million global deaths per year, and it has been postulated that, at least in the US, the rise in obesity could actually result in shorter life expectancy for future generations – thereby reversing the temporal trend of increasing life expectancy over time. The fact that a growing proportion of the global population is crossing the threshold into excess weight suggests that this daunting prediction may become true.
The exact cause of this global weight increase is anyone’s guess. The authors of this paper suggest the usual suspects: increased caloric intake, changes in the composition of diet, decreased levels of physical activity. Then they promptly throw their hands up.
Due to the continued westernization of many developing countries across the globe, no one should be surprised if the global rates of obesity continue to climb into the future. The slight plateauing in the rise of obesity in developed countries may indicate that some of the strategies enacted over the past decade are actually having some impact. Hopefully, we can help developing countries launch similar public health strategies and turn the tide before obesity rates in these countries mirror those of more developed (and chubbier) counterparts.
Interesting fact: The research was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Reference: Ng et al. Global, regional, and national prevalence of overweight and obesity in children and adults during 1980–2013: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013. (2014) The Lancet.