More than one in 10 people worldwide are now obese and 2.2 billion are believed to be overweight, fuelling a global health crisis that claims millions of lives every year, according to a major new international study released on June 12.

Obesity numbers have more than doubled in 73 countries and surged elsewhere around the world since the launch in 1980 of the study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Conducted in 195 countries over a 35-year period, the research presented at a conference in Stockholm, Sweden, last Monday is billed as the most comprehensive carried out to date on the subject of obesity.

At the conclusion of the study in 2015, 107.7 million children and 603.7 million adults worldwide were deemed to be obese, triggering what its authors described as “a growing and disturbing global public health crisis”.

Even though the obesity rate in children remained lower than among adults, it had grown at a faster rate during the study period – a finding experts described as especially “worrisome”.

“Excess body weight is one of the most challenging public health problems of our time, affecting nearly one in every three people,” said Dr Ashkan Afshin, the paper’s lead author and an assistant professor of global health at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington in Seattle, United States.

“Over the past decade, numerous interventions have been evaluated, but very little evidence exists about their long-term effectiveness,” he added, announcing a new 10-year partnership with the US Food and Agriculture Organization to evaluate global progress in controlling excess weight.

A total of 2.2 billion people – 30% of the world population – were believed to be either obese or overweight by 2015.

The World Health Organization (WHO) had estimated the number of overweight people at 1.9 billion in 2014, including more than 600 million who were obese.

Excess weight is linked to sharply increased rates of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some types of cancer.

Four million deaths in 2015 were linked to having a body mass index (BMI) of over 24.5, indicating a person is overweight, or of 30 or more, indicating obesity.

BMI is calculated by dividing a person’s weight in kilograms by their height in centimetres squared.

Of those deaths, more than 40% involved people deemed non-obese – indicating that being overweight, even without being obese, is leading to millions of premature deaths.

More than two-thirds of deaths linked to a raised BMI were attributed to cardiovascular diseases, marking a sharp increase since 1990.

A global issue

Of the world’s most populous countries, the rate of obesity among children and young adults was highest in the US at 13%, while Egypt had the highest rate of obesity among adults, at 35% of the population.

The lowest rates of adult obesity were in Bangladesh and Vietnam, both at one percent.

China and India had the highest number of obese children – 15.3 and 14.4 million respectively.

The US and China meanwhile, had the greatest number of obese adults – 79.4 and 57.3 million respectively.

In an editorial accompanying the study, Dr Edward Gregg and Dr Jonathan Shaw, both epidemiologists at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the most worrisome finding was the approximate tripling of obesity in youth and young adults of middle-income countries – namely, China, Brazil and Indonesia.

“An early onset of obesity is likely to translate into a high cumulative incidence of type 2 diabetes, hypertension and chronic kidney disease,” they warned.

A mother measures her baby’s blood glucose levels. Obesity’s upward trend means that the rates of diabetes, hypertension and chronic kidney disease will follow closely.

The study was based on the latest data provided by the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) study, which tracks the impact of more than 300 types of pathology and injury in 133 countries.

Its chief goal was to understand, on a global scale, what is driving “the current global epidemic of disease” related to high body weight, the authors said.

The research was unveiled at the annual EAT Stockholm Food Forum, which brings together scientists, business leaders and policymakers to address ways to transform the global food system to help solve the challenges of climate, sustainable development and health. – AFP Relaxnews