Global Obesity Rates Double

According to recent data released by a team from the Imperial College London, Harvard, and the World Health Organization (“WHO”), global obesity rates have nearly doubled since 1980. Women have higher rates of obesity than men worldwide. Nearly one in seven women worldwide are obese. The researches described the findings as “a population emergency”.

Obesity rates have increased the most in wealthy, English speaking countries. The U.S. had the largest overall percentage increase in both men and women worldwide. In women, the U.S. was followed by New Zealand and Australia and in men it was followed by the United Kingdom and Australia. However, researchers found that even in developing countries, particularly in urban areas, rates were rising and catching up with high–income nations.

The standard used for accessing obesity was using a person’s body–mass index (“BMI”). BMI is calculated by taking a person’s weight divided by the square of a person’s height. A BMI in the range of 25–30 is considered overweight while above 30 is obese. While people have different body types and builds, BMI gives a good general sense of how people are regulating their weight.

Worldwide, Pacific Islanders had the overall highest BMI levels, between 34 and 35. In Europe, Russia and Moldova had the highest BMIs for women while Czech Republic had the highest rates for men. Swiss, French, and Italian women had the lowest BMI. Italy was the only country in Europe where women’s average BMI has declined over the past 30 years.

One piece of good news was that despite rising levels of obesity, high–income countries have seen a drop in cardiovascular disease since 1980. Lower levels of blood pressure and cholesterol are likely due to the decreased number of smokers. For example, in the U.S., 33% of the adult population smoked while today the amount is near 20%.

As the world becomes increasingly developed, these findings reemphasize the need for people to eat healthy diets, increase physical activity, and maintain a proper body weight. Obesity contributes to millions of premature deaths each year from heart disease, diabetes, cancers, and other disorders. It significantly contributes to health care costs, which can lead to large expenditures for governments, insurers, or even bankruptcy for the uninsured.