Rates of worldwide obesity have risen dramatically in recent decades. It is now estimated that over 2 billion people around the world – almost one third of the world’s population – are either overweight or obese. Most of those live in industrialized nations.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines obesity as an excessive amount of fat with a body index of greater than or equal to 30. Health issues relating to it often lead to higher blood pressure and heart disease, as well as some other scary effects that include stroke and diabetes.
Not entirely unrelated, the rates of diabetes have risen dramatically on a global scale. There are 382 million people world-wide with diabetes. It is a staggeringly high number, and projections show that this number, if anything, is expected to rise further still. The costs are staggeringly high as well. According to on finding, women in the United States with diabetes will incur $283,000 of related healthcare costs over the course of their lifetime. Diabetes in the United States alone costs $245 billion a year. Globally, the number of diabetics is expected to rise to just shy of 600 million people by 2035.
The United States has the highest rate of obesity of any nation in the world by far. However, is far from the only country dealing with serious problems with this issue. The WHO recently projected that three in four males in Britain will be overweight by the year 2030. Overall, rates are expected to rise across Europe, quickly escalating to a dilemma that each European nation will have to deal with in the future. There were even more dire projections by the WHO for certain countries, including Ireland, where it was predicted that almost the entire adult population would be officially overweight within 15 years. Specifically, 89 percent of men in Ireland, and 85 percent of the women, are expected to be overweight by 2030.
Significant rises are also projected for numerous other European countries, including but not necessarily limited to Austria, Greece, the Czech Republic, and Spain. Other countries, such as Sweden, are expected to see a more modest rise in the rates of obesity. So bad is this crisis getting, that it is starting to be referred to as an epidemic.
Yet, the problem of obesity is not relegated to North America and Europe. The nation with the second highest rate of obesity is China, with India following in third. Rates of obesity in both of those countries have risen dramatically in recent decades, and are expected to continue to rise. Furthermore, the rates of obesity are 3 to 4 times higher in urbanized areas, as opposed to more rural areas. In the case of India, however, there are some strange paradoxes, as that country also has significant rates of anemic children at 74%, while nearly half of all pregnant women are anemic.
There are some nations that are stemming this tide, and expected to see rates of obesity on the decline. These include the Netherlands, where less than half of the male population is expected to be overweight, and roughly eight percent of the male population expected to be obese.
Dr. Lauren Webber, the director of public health modelling for the United Kingdom Health Forum, suggested that if lower rates of obesity can be achieved for any society, there are certain requirements that need to be established first. These include increased regulations, and she used a sugar tax as a possible example. Also, improved standards for labeling, so consumers can better understand what they are eating. She also urged continued reformulations of processed foods.
Further research conducted by the McKinsey Global Institute have identified still more things that could lower rates of obesity. These include, but are not limited to, subsidizing healthier lunches in school systems, more adequate labeling for food, urban communities designed to encourage walking, restrictions on advertising unhealthy foods, and financial strategies, including taxes.
Still, there are complications with these efforts to reverse the trend of increased obesity. Tam Fry from the National Obesity Forum suggested that economics can play a detrimental role in trying to make people healthier. She cited the recent economic downturn, and said that people who are less well off too often cannot afford healthier foods in order to avoid obesity.
By Charles Bordeau
Photo courtesy of Melissa Wiese’s Flickr Page – Creativecommons Creative Commons License