A new study has found that more than 2 billion people in the world, including children and adults, suffer from health problems related to being overweight or obese. The report was published Monday in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The study also noted that an increasing percentage of overweight or obese people die from health problems developed by their weight. They are dying even though they are not technically considered obese, according to the researchers. They found that out of the 4 million deaths attributed to excess body weight in 2015, over 40 percent occurred among people whose body mass index (BMI) fell below the mark considered “obese.”
One-third of the world’s population suffer from overweight or obesity
The authors of the new paper said that their findings represent a growing and disturbing global public crisis, as nearly a third of the world population suffers from overweight or obesity.
“People who shrug off weight gain do so at their own risk – risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and other life-threatening conditions,” said Dr. Christopher Murray, author of the new study and Director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington. “Those half-serious New Year’s resolutions to lose weight should become year-round commitments to lose weight and prevent future weight gain.”
The study analyzed data from 195 countries and territories from 1980 through 2015. The researchers released the paper today at the annual EAT Stockholm Food Forum, a forum designed to create a healthier, more sustainable food system.
It is based on data obtained at the most recent Global Burden of Disease study (GBD), which was a systematic, scientific effort to quantify the extent and magnitude of health loss from all major diseases, injuries, and risk factors by sex, age, and population. The GBD study has more than 2,300 collaborators in 133 countries, and it examines more than 300 diseases and injuries.
The new study also analyzes previous investigations on the effects of excess weight and the potential links between high BMI and the development of certain cancers, such as the esophagus, colon and rectum, liver, gallbladder and biliary tract, pancreas, breast, ovary, uterus, kidney, thyroid, and leukemia. Dr. Murray said that the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation is committed to producing more in-depth studies focused on the implications of obesity and overweight. He noted that IHME will also conduct a study in partnership with the United Nations.
The United States has the highest number of obese adults
The study showed that the United States has the greatest percentage of obese children and young adults, at 13 percent, while Egypt accounted for the country with the highest percentage of obese adults, at 35 percent. Around 2.2 billion people were overweight or obese in 2015, but only 710 million people were classified as obese, with 5 percent of all children and 12 percent of adults fitting into the category.
Data obtained from the GBD study also revealed that the number of people affected by obesity has doubled since 1980 in 73 countries, and it continued to increase across the majority of the countries included in the study.
Obesity levels were higher among women than men in all age groups analyzed, which coincides with previous studies on obesity. Percentages of children obesity were lower than those of adult obesity, but their rates have been increasing more, and faster, over the last years.
In terms of numbers, the incredibly large population sizes of China and India meant they had the highest numbers of obese children. China reported 15.3 million obese children , and India reported 14.4 million. Despite having a smaller population, the U.S. had the highest number of obese adults, with 79.4 million (around 35 percent of the population), followed by China with 57.3 million. The lowest rates were reported in Bangladesh and Vietnam, at 1 percent.
Almost 70% of deaths in overweight people were due to cardiovascular disease
Along with illustrating the scale of the global obesity epidemic, the researchers hope to raise awareness of the illnesses linked to being overweight than can be fatal. The findings showed that nearly 70 percent of deaths related to an elevated BMI in the report were due to cardiovascular disease, killing over 2.7 million people in 2015, while diabetes was the second leading cause of death.
“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 study’s lead author and Assistant Professor of Global Health at IHME. “Over the past decade, numerous interventions have been evaluated, but very little evidence exists about their long-term effectiveness.”
Afshin noted that over the next 10 years, IHME will work closely with the FAO to monitor and evaluate the progress of countries in their efforts to control overweight and obesity. He added that they will share data and findings with scientists, policymakers, and other stakeholders seeking evidence-based strategies in order to address the problem.