The number of people in the world who are obese skyrocketed to 641 million in 2014 from 105 million in 1975, according to a new study published in the medical journal The Lancet. That’s a sixfold increase in about 40 years.
The study compared the Body Mass Index (BMI), a measure of body fat based on height and weight, of almost 20 million people from 186 countries from 1975 to 2014. The global obesity rate for men raised to 10.8 percent in 2014 from 3.2 percent in 1975. For women, the obesity rate increased to 14.9 percent from 6.4 percent, according to the study conducted by scientists from the Imperial College London.
One-fifth of adults worldwide will be obese by 2025
A person is clinically defined as obese when they have a BMI of 30 or higher, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That means that someone who’s 5’ 9’’ tall and weighs 203 pounds or more is obese. The health risks associated with obesity include diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and some types of cancers, which are among the leading causes of death in the US and the world, according to the CDC.
The study points out that, if current trends continue, one-fifth of adults worldwide will be obese by 2025, Bloomberg reports. That makes it "virtually impossible" to meet a goal set by the World Health Organization to halt the increase of obesity within the next decade. The consequences for governments around the world will be increasing healthcare costs; public officials will also have to find a way to focus on prevention and make healthy foods more affordable and accessible.
"They should be as nervous as a cat on a hot tin roof about the tsunami of diabetes that’s coming their way," Bill Dietz, director of the Sumner M. Redstone Global Center for Prevention and Wellness at George Washington University, told Bloomberg. "The cost of this rise in the prevalence of obesity is going to be staggering."
"The cost of this rise in the prevalence of obesity is going to be staggering."
The study found that 118 million obese people, almost a fifth of the world’s adults, live in six high-income, English-countries: Australia, Canada, Republic of Ireland, New Zealand, the UK, and the US, BBC reports. The US alone has almost 42 million obese men and 46.1 million obese women, behind only China, which has the overall largest number of obese people.
Importantly, the study also points out that the number of people who are underweight has increased, from 330 million in 1975 to 462 million in 2014. The countries most affected are Bangladesh, India, Afghanistan, and Eritrea. As Majid Ezzati, the study’s senior author, told Bloomberg, the rise of obese people and underweight people is correlated.
"The issue really comes down to people either not having enough to eat or not having enough healthy food to eat," he says. "It becomes a manifestation of the same problem."