Obesity on the rise, WHO targets in jeopardy

A fifth of the world's obese people come from just six English-speaking countries. [Sandra Cohen-Rose/Flickr]

Obesity is on the rise globally and current trends suggest that health targets are in danger of not being met, according to a new study. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Humanity is growing, not just in terms of numbers, but in belt-size too. A study in the Lancet journal has shown that the global population is set to get heavier on average by 1.5 kg every decade. Worldwide, about 640 million people are already overweight or obese, including 375 million women and 266 million men.

Among high-income countries, Japanese men and women have the lowest BMI and the United States has the highest. The analysis took into account 1,700 studies on population BMI, collected over the course of 40 years.

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In Europe, weight is above average especially in Cypriot, Irish and Maltese men, and Moldovan women. The United Kingdom has the third highest average BMI in Europe for women, the same as Ireland and Russia. By 2025, the study estimates that 38% of its female citizens will be overweight, making it the worst in Europe in this regard, followed by Ireland (37%) and Malta (34%). Similar trends appear in men. By comparison, 43% of US women and 45% of US men are forecasted to be obese in 2025.

Bosnian and Dutch men, together with Swiss women, have the lowest average BMI in Europe.

Globally, 2.3% of men and 5% of women are currently morbidly or severely obese, with BMIs higher than 35 kg/m2. As a result their individual risk of developing diabetes, cancer, kidney or cardiovascular disease is increased significantly. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), a BMI between 25 and 29.9 kg/m2 classes an individual as overweight and over 30 kg/m2 means they are obese.

“Based on our data, we can demonstrate human variability, which is helpful for health policies,” said one of the study’s co-authors Frank Rühli, from the University of Zurich.

If the current trend continues, 18% of men and 21% of women will be obese by the year 2025, worldwide, the study warns.The WHO’s stated goal of stabilising obesity levels compared to 2010 levels by 2025 is unrealistic, according to the study’s authors.

Childhood obesity prevention: coordinated approach gets results

2,1 billion people, or nearly 30% of the world’s population, are either obese or overweight, one in five of them being children. As costs for obesity related diseases (diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular conditions etc.) continue to rise, already representing 1% to 3% of the total health expenditure in most countries, governments and decision-makers should focus their efforts on prevention. 

Almost a fifth of obese adults, some 118 million people, live in just six high-income English-speaking countries: Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, the UK and the US.    

Commenting on the study, Professor George Davey Smith of the School of Social and Community Medicine in Bristol, warned against the creation of a “fatter, healthier, but more unequal world”. Writing in the same journal, he pointed out that while in high-income countries obesity is a growing problem, malnutrition in low-income countries remains a major health problem. He urged health authorities not to combat obesity at the expense of the undernourished.

The European Commission launched its Childhood Obesity Action Plan in 2014 to combat the growing trend of overweight youngsters. The Plan, which covers the 2014-2020 period, aims to reduce obesity levels and provides a number of measures that member states can implement in order to achieve this.

The Commission estimates that 7% of national health budgets go towards combatting the effects and consequences of obesity.

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