World has more obese than thin people

‘Epidemic of severe obesity’ needs co-ordinated global attack plan, says expert after extensive research.
A BMI score over 25 is overweight, over 30 is obese and over 40 is morbidly obese. Photo / Thinkstock
A BMI score over 25 is overweight, over 30 is obese and over 40 is morbidly obese. Photo / Thinkstock

More than 640 million people globally now weigh in as obese and the world has more overweight than underweight people, an analysis of global trends in body mass index (BMI) shows.

A startling rise in rates of obesity in the past 40 years meant the number of people with a BMI of more than 30 had risen from 105 million in 1975 to 641 million in 2014, the study found. More than one in 10 men and one in seven women were obese.

BMI is calculated by dividing a person's weight in kilograms by their height in metres squared, and is an indication of whether a person is a healthy weight. A BMI score over 25 is overweight, over 30 is obese and over 40 is morbidly obese.

"The number of people across the globe whose weight poses a serious threat to their health is greater than ever before," said Majid Ezzati, a professor at the school of public health at Imperial College London.

"And this epidemic of severe obesity is too extensive to be tackled with medications such as blood pressure-lowering drugs or diabetes treatments alone, or with a few extra bike lanes."

Ezzati said co-ordinated global steps were needed, including addressing the pricing of healthy foods versus unhealthy foods, or taxing high sugar and highly processed foods.

Yet excessively low body weight remained a serious public health issue in the world's poorest regions, the study's authors said, and rising global trends in obesity should not overshadow the problem of many people not getting enough to eat.

In South Asia, for example, almost a quarter of the population was underweight. In Central and East Africa, about 12 per cent of women and 15 per cent of men were underweight.

The study, published in the Lancet medical journal, involved the World Health Organisation and more then 700 researchers worldwide. It analysed data from nearly 20 million adults from 186 countries.

It found that during the past four decades the average age-corrected male BMI rose to 24.2 from 21.7, and in women rose to 24.4 from 22.1. That was equivalent to the world's population becoming 1.5kg heavier each decade, the researchers said.

They predicted that if the trends continued, 18 per cent of men and 21 per cent of women would be obese by 2025.

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