Nearly two billion people worldwide now overweight

Washington, D.C.—MORE THAN 1.9 billion people worldwide were overweight in 2010, a 25 per cent increase since 2002, a new Worldwatch analysis shows.

A survey of statistics in 177 countries shows 38 per cent of adults – those 15 years or older – are now overweight. The trend is strongly correlated to rising income and to an increase in preventable health problems, writes Richard H. Weil in the latest Vital Signs Online release from the Worldwatch Institute.

Much of this change occurred in the industrial world. Economic, cultural, and possibly genetic factors all played a part. But in every country where the people have gotten heavier the result has been the same: an increase in preventable medical problems.

The trend over the last decade toward heavier populations cuts across regions and income levels. In India, 19 per cent of adults are overweight, up from 14 per cent in 2002. In Mexico, the figure has risen by 8 percentage points since 2002, while Brazil’s is up by 7 points and the rate in the U.K. is up by 5 points. East Asia has seen a 4 point increase over the period. The United States leads all industrialized countries with 78.6 per cent of the adult population overweight, although Micronesia and Polynesia top all countries. There, nearly 88 per cent of the over-15 population is overweight.

“Overweight” is defined as people with a body mass index (BMI) of 25 or greater. A person with a BMI of 30 or above is usually labeled “obese,” but here the term overweight covers overweight and obese populations combined.

That analysis shows that some 75 per cent of adults in the 10 richest countries are overweight, while in the 10 poorest, only 18 per cent are. On a regional level, the correlation between income and being overweight holds reasonably well. Europe generally has elevated levels, for example, while low-income sub-Saharan Africa averages lower BMI levels. At a national level, however, the situation is more complex. A comparison of percentages of people overweight in all countries and their GDPs reveals a positive but weak correlation, with cultural, societal, and possibly genetic factors playing heavily into the mix.

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