What To Know About Global Weight Trends

Topline

Obesity rates severely increased between 1990 and 2022 while rates of underweight people decreased in most countries, according to a new study, and the researchers believe access to more nutritious foods is the key to simultaneously decreasing obesity while tackling the remaining rates of underweight.

Key Facts

Global obesity rates among adult women more than doubled between 1990 and 2022, while rates among adult men tripled, according to a study published Thursday in the Lancet; childhood obesity rates were four times higher in 2022 compared to 1990.

The nations of Tonga and American Samoa had the highest adult female obesity rates, while Nauru and American Samoa had the rates among adult males, making up 60% of each population; Niue and the Cook Islands had the highest childhood obesity rates, where over 30% of kids have obesity.

Obesity rates among U.S. women more than doubled from 21.2% in 1990 to 43.8% in 2022, while obesity rates among men soared from 16.9% in 1990 to 41.6% in 2022, putting the U.S. at No. 36 for highest female obesity rates and the 10th highest for male obesity rates.

The U.K. ranked 87th for highest female obesity rates and 55th for highest male obesity rates, and China ranked the 11th lowest for women (190th highest) and the 52nd lowest for men (142th highest).

Childhood obesity rates in the U.S. increased from 11.6% to 19.4% in girls—the 22nd highest—and from 11.5% to 21.7% in boys, making it the 26th-highest country.

The U.K. ranked 72nd for highest childhood obesity rates among girls and 91st among boys, while China ranked 99th lowest (102nd highest) for girls and 70th highest for boys.

Key Background

Obesity and underweight are both forms of malnutrition, according to the World Health Organization. Climate change, the Covid pandemic and the war in Ukraine could potentially be causing a rise in malnutrition “by increasing poverty and the cost of nutrient-rich foods,” Guha Pradeepa, study co-author from the Madras Diabetes Research Foundation, said in a statement. The study researchers believe increasing access to nutrient-rich foods is needed to address the remaining underweight numbers while tackling the rise in obesity. The combined prevalence of both forms of malnutrition has increased in most countries—with the exception of some sub-Saharan African and south and southeast Asian countries—mainly driven by the global rise in obesity, according to the Lancet study’s authors. Both forms of malnutrition have detrimental effects on health. Being overweight or obese increases risk of death, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, stroke, high cholesterol, several types of cancers, coronary heart disease, sleep apnea, gallbladder disease and mental health issues like depression and anxiety. Being underweight increases the risk of bone less, delayed wound healing, nutrient deficiencies, anemia, heart irregularities, bone vessel disease and the loss of periods, troubles getting pregnant, depression and osteoporosis in women.

Big Number

1 billion. That’s how many people globally were living with obesity in 2022, according to the Lancet paper. That’s 879 million adults, and 159 million children.

Surprising Fact

The number of adults who were underweight dropped by more than 50% in the same timeframe. The number of underweight girls fell by about 20% and underweight boys fell by around 33%, according to the study. Eritrea and Timor-Leste had the highest rates of underweight women, and Ethiopia and Eritrea had the highest rates of underweight men, totaling 20% of the adult populations in each country. Countries with the highest prevalence of underweight girls were India and Sri Lanka and India, and Niger for boys, where over 15% of children lived with obesity.

Crucial Quote

“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,” ​​Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, said in a statement. “Importantly, it requires the cooperation of the private sector, which must be accountable for the health impacts of their products.”

Tangent

Though research is limited, there have been theories that the Covid pandemic worsened obesity. A study done on high-income countries found the pandemic resulted in a slight rise in obesity, while research done on low- and middle-income countries found diet quality and food scarcity worsened after the pandemic. However, the Lancet study authors are unsure “whether these effects are transitory or permanent.”

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