It’s no secret that the United States has been suffering from a major epidemic of overweight and obesity in recent decades, and that similar trends have occurred all around the world, in developed and developing countries alike. In 2010, it was estimated that the phenomenon caused 3.4 million deaths, not to mention an extensive wave of chronic disability. Now a new analysis in The Lancet has tracked the worldwide increase from 1980 to 2013, and the results are not pretty.
For adults, the study relied on standard definitions: a body mass index (BMI) of 25 to 30 for overweight, and 30 or more for obesity. Boasting more than 100 authors from every region of the planet, the study reviewed enormous amounts of data and found that the proportion of overweight and obese men rose from 28.8 to 36.9 percent during the 33-year period. Among women, the rate increased from 29.8 to 38 percent.
The U.S. figures were bad enough—just under one-third of men and just over one-third of women were obese in 2013. But some countries had even higher obesity rates. In Kuwait, Kiribati, the Federated States of Micronesia, Libya, Qatar, Samoa and Tonga, more than half of women were obese. Men fared slightly better—only in Tonga did their obesity rate top 50 percent.
Overall, the report is sobering. Unless we get this situation under control, the costs of addressing weight-related disorders like diabetes and cardiovascular disease—already enormous—will continue to skyrocket. The effects are likely to swamp any efforts in the U.S. and around the globe to keep health care expenses under control.