Nearly half of the world (44%) is now considered obese or overweight, and 4 million deaths each year are attributed to obesity, according to a World Bank report published Feb. 6.
Obesity’s prevalence has increased threefold since 1975, rising in all nations and with the most notable increases taking place in rural areas.
Much of the world now faces a “double burden of malnutrition,” something highlighted in a mid-December report in The Lancet that noted how undernourishment and obesity tend to exist side by side in countries from all economic levels.
Currently, over 70% of the world’s obese population live in low- or middle-income nations, the World Bank report said, “dispelling the myth that obesity is a problem only in high-income countries.”
Middle-income nations are the key regions driving this increase, accounting for more than two thirds of obese persons across all age levels.
For example, among children under 5 years old, 79% of those who are obese live in middle-income nations, compared to 11% in high-income and 10% in low-income nations.
“Today, overweight/obesity-related non-communicable diseases are among the top three killers in every region of the world except Sub-Saharan Africa,” the report said.
Body Mass Index, or BMI, is used to determine obesity levels worldwide, a measure that uses height and weight to determine whether a person is underweight, average weight, overweight or obese.
The rise in obesity is the result of a confluence of factors, most notably an increase in consumption of processed foods that are higher in sugar and fat content coupled with a decrease in physical activity.
Not only do these trends negatively impact an individual’s health and life expectancy (obesity increases the risk of diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular diseases), they also create societal challenges (including lower economic productivity and higher healthcare costs).
“The estimated economic costs of obesity vary considerably since studies use different methodologies to estimate direct and indirect costs,” the report said. “Whatever estimates one might subscribe to, the big picture message is that increasing health care costs linked to increasing obesity rates are a trend across both the developed and the developing world.”