The U.S. is still No. 1 with others gaining in a competition anyone wants to win. The U.S. is the country with the highest percentage of people overweight or obese. But, the rest of the world is catching up and obesity is now a worldwide health issue.
New data from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) shows that 30 percent of the world’s population are now overweight or obese. That translates to 2.1 million people who are now at risk for health conditions brought on by obesity. In studying statistics on 188 countries, researchers noted that no country has lowered its obesity rate since 1980, when statistics were first gathered. Instead, the numbers are increasing in many countries.
The U.S. has 5 percent of the world’s total population, yet 13 percent of the overweight and obese population on the planet. The U.S. is not alone, though. More than half of the obese people (671 million) live in just 10 countries, according to The Lancet. After the U.S., the next four are, in order, China, India, Russia and Brazil. The other countries are Mexico, Egypt, Germany, Pakistan and Indonesia.
Worldwide, between 1980 and 2013, the percentage of adults who have a body-mass index (BMI) of 25 or greater, which is a traditional measure of being overweight, increased from 28.8 percent to 36.9 percent in men. During the same period, the rate for overweight women went from 29.8 percent to 38 percent.
A variety of public health experts have commented on the results, which are drawing attention in each country with alarming results. There are many theories why this is a worldwide trend. In parts of the globe, it is predominately an intake issue.
Some blame the excessive intake of fat and sugar, which the U.S. issue is largely attributed to, but what people are tending to overeat varies by country. For example, in South Africa, the culprit is starchy food, whereas in parts of Latin America, there is heavy consumption of snacks and sugary drinks. The increasing availability of fast food in every country is also impacting obesity rates.
Physical inactivity is also being blamed worldwide. Modernization and technology are leading to more physical inactivity worldwide. For example, in countries like China, there were known for their use of bicycles for traveling around. Now, bike lanes are disappearing and the roads are clogged with traffic. In many developed and developing countries, there are longer commutes to work, which means more time inactive.
IHME Director Dr. Christopher Murray noted that obesity is not affecting people everywhere, regardless of their ages and incomes. Their research shows that no country has been able to improve the situation in the past thirty years. Instead obesity rates are rising steadily as incomes rise in developing countries. He urged that steps must be taken to address this worldwide public health crisis.
Study author Marie Ng, who is an assistant professor at IHME, added that the rise in obesity among children in so many countries is a especially troubling issue because of the potential for heart disease, diabetes and other major health issues worldwide tied to childhood obesity. “We need to be thinking now about how to turn this trend around,” she said.
By Dyanne Weiss