By Sally Robertson, BSc
Obesity rates have been steadily climbing over the last three decades and the number of adults and children who are now obese is higher than ever, show important new findings.
According to the most comprehensive analysis yet from the 2013 Global Burden of Disease study, the rate of adult obesity and overweight is up by 28% compared with 33 years ago, while childhood rates are up by an astonishing 47%.
Overall, the number of people who are either obese or overweight has risen from 857 million in 1980 to 2.1 billion in 2013.
“Our analysis suggests that the UN’s target to stop the rise in obesity by 2025 is very ambitious and is unlikely to be achieved without concerted action and further research to assess the effect of population-wide interventions,” says lead author of the study Professor Emmanuela Gakidou from the University of Washington.
The findings show that the rise in obesity has been more significant in some countries than in others, with more than 50% of the world’s 671 million obese individuals located in just ten countries. The highest rates of obesity were seen in the USA, at 13%, followed by China and India, at 15% combined. In order of declining obesity rate, the other seven countries included Russia, Brazil, Mexico, Egypt, Germany, Pakistan and Indonesia.
Among women, obesity rates increased the most in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Honduras and Bahrain, while among men, rates increased the most in New Zealand, Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the USA.
When the researchers looked at high-income countries alone, they found that the greatest rises in adult obesity occurred in the USA where about a third are now obese; Australia where just under a third are obese and the UK where about a quarter are obese.
For the study, Gakidou and team carried out a comprehensive data analysis of surveys, reports and scientific literature available on the global, regional and national prevalence of overweight and obesity in 188 countries across all 21 world regions between 1980 and 2013. Overweight was defined as a body mass index (BMI) of 25kg/m² or higher and obesity as a BMI of 30kg/m² or higher.
“Unlike other major global health risks, such as tobacco and childhood nutrition, obesity is not decreasing worldwide,” says Gakidou. “Our findings show that increases in the prevalence of obesity have been substantial, widespread, and have arisen over a short time.”
“Urgent global leadership is needed to help low-and middle-income countries intervene to reduce excessive calorie intake, physical inactivity, and active promotion of food consumption by industry,” he warns.