More than one in 10 people worldwide are now obese, with weight-related health problems claiming millions of lives every year, according to a major global study released on Monday. In Israel, about one in four women and one in six men are obese, the research found.
Conducted in 195 countries over a 35-year period, the study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine and presented at a conference in Stockholm, is billed as the most comprehensive research to date on the subject.
Obesity numbers more than doubled in 73 countries since the study launch in 1980, triggering a surge in related diseases, in what the study authors described as “a growing and disturbing global public health crisis.”
In 2015, 107.7 million children and 603.7 million adults worldwide were obese.
In 2015, China and India had the highest numbers of obese children, whereas the United States and China had the highest numbers of obese adults, the study found.
Comparing data for Israel from 1980 and 2015, the study found that the percentage of obese male adults ballooned from 11.2% in 1980 to 16.57% in 2015. Among female adults, obesity went up from 17.84% to 24%.
Obesity in Israel among both boys and girls more than doubled over the period, from 3% to nearly 7% among the former and from 2.36% to 4.54% for the latter.
Worldwide, about 5% of children and 12% of adults were obese in 2015.
Overall, the study said that even though the obesity rate in children remained lower than among adults, it had grown at a faster rate during the 35-year study period, the report said.
Four million deaths in 2015 were linked to having a Body Mass Index (BMI) of over 24.5, indicating a person is overweight, or of 30 or more, indicating obesity. BMI is calculated by dividing a person’s weight in kilograms by their height in centimeters squared.
Of those deaths, more than 40% involved people deemed non-obese — indicating that being overweight, even without being obese, is leading to millions of premature deaths.
More than two-thirds of deaths linked to a raised BMI were attributed to cardiovascular diseases, marking a sharp increase since 1990.
“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, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington in Seattle, one of the authors of the study.
“Those half-serious New Year’s resolutions to lose weight should become year-round commitments to lose weight and prevent future weight gain,” he said.
Of the world’s most populous countries, the rate of obesity among children and young adults was highest in the United States, at 13%, while Egypt had the highest rate of obesity among adults, at 35% of the population.
The lowest rates of adult obesity were in Bangladesh and Vietnam, both at 1%.
China and India had the highest number of obese children — respectively 15.3 and 14.4 million.
The United States and China, meanwhile, had the greatest number of obese adults — respectively 79.4 and 57.3 million.
In an editorial accompanying the study, Dr. Edward Gregg and Dr. Jonathan Shaw, both epidemiologists at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the most worrisome finding was the approximate tripling of obesity in youth and young adults of middle-income countries — namely China, Brazil, and Indonesia.
“An early onset of obesity is likely to translate into a high cumulative incidence of type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and chronic kidney disease,” they warned.
The study was based on the latest data provided by the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) study, which tracks the impact of more than 300 types of pathology and injury in 133 countries.
Its chief goal was to understand, on a global scale, what is driving “the current global epidemic of disease” related to high body weight, the authors said.
The research was unveiled Monday at the annual EAT Stockholm Food Forum, which brings together scientists, business leaders and policy makers to address ways to transform the global food system to help solve the challenges of climate, sustainable development and health.