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More Than One Billion People Globally Have Obesity

Obesity rates more than doubled among women and nearly tripled in men between 1990 and 2022, an analysis shows.

Nearly 880 million adults and 159 million children were living with obesity in 2022, according to an analysis published in the peer-reviewed journal Lancet.

“It is very concerning that the epidemic of obesity that was evident among adults in much of the world in 1990 is now mirrored in school-aged children and adolescents,” senior analysis author professor Majid Ezzati of Imperial College London said in a statement.

Researchers analyzed weight and height measurements from over 220 million people aged five years or older, representing more than 190 countries.

Adults were classified as having obesity if their body mass index (BMI) was greater than or equal to 30 kg/m2. Among children and adolescents, the BMI used to define obesity depended on age and sex because there was a significant increase in height and weight during these ages.

The analysis shows that the number of adults living with obesity increased by four and a half times since 1990 — from 195 million to 880 million in 2022.

In women, obesity rates more than doubled, increasing from 8.8% to 18.5%. Meanwhile, the number of men affected with obesity nearly tripled (from 4.8% to 14.0%) between 1990 and 2022.

The total number of children and adolescents with obesity in 2022 was nearly 160 million, compared to 31 million in 1990.

From 1990 to 2022, global obesity rates more than quadrupled in girls (from 1.7% to 6.9%) and boys (from 2.1% to 9.3%), with increases seen in almost all countries.

“This new study highlights the importance of preventing and managing obesity from early life to adulthood, through diet, physical activity, and adequate care, as needed,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization.

The authors say climate change, disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the war in Ukraine risk worsened obesity rates, which made some households shift to less healthy foods.

However, the authors note that BMI is an imperfect measure of the extent and distribution of body fat. But as it is widely recorded in population-based surveys, BMI makes analyses such as these possible.

The costly burden of obesity

The prevalence of obesity in the United States is ranked 36th highest in the world for women and 10th highest in the world for men in 2022. Among women, the obesity rate increased from 21.2% in 1990 to 43.8% in 2022 and from 16.9% to 41.6% in men.

The medical cost of adult obesity in the U.S. ranges from $147 billion to nearly $210 billion per year. Most of the spending is generated from treating obesity-related diseases, such as

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • High blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke
  • Some cancers, including breast, liver, pancreas, colon and rectum
  • Breathing problems, such as sleep apnea and asthma
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Fatty liver diseases
  • Kidney disease
  • Fertility and sexual function problems
  • Mental health problems, including depression and eating disorders

Tedros of the WHO said, “Getting back on track to meet the global targets for curbing obesity will take the work of governments and communities, supported by evidence-based policies from WHO and national public health agencies. Importantly, it requires the cooperation of the private sector, which must be accountable for the health impacts of their products.”

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