The Weight of the World:
More than 2 Billion are Overweight or Obese

Published in July/August Issue             

About 2.2 billion people around the world are either overweight or have obesity and an increasing number are dying from related health diseases and conditions, according to a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine last month. The findings represent “a growing and disturbing global public health crisis,” according to the study authors.

“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, an author on the study and Director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington in a news release. “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, which spans 195 countries and 68.5 million children and adults, is based on data from the most recent Global Burden of Disease study (GBD), a systematic, scientific effort to quantify the magnitude of health loss from all major diseases, injuries, and risk factors by age, sex and population.

In 2015, excess weight affected 2.2 billion children and adults worldwide, or 30% of all people. This includes nearly 108 million children and more than 600 million adults with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more. According to the study, the prevalence of obesity has doubled since 1980 in more than 70 countries and has continuously increased in most other nations.

In 2015, the United States had the highest percentage of obesity among children and
young adults at nearly 13 percent, and Bangladesh had the lowest at 1 percent. Egypt had
the highest percentage of adults at 35 percent and Vietnam, at 1 percent, had the
lowest percentage.

In 2015, high BMI contributed to 4 million deaths, with cardiovascular disease being the leading cause of death, followed by diabetes. The study article concludes that its “findings highlight the need for implementation of multicomponent interventions to reduce the prevalence and disease burden of high BMI.” The study was supported by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

“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 IHME, in a news release.