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Over one billion people living with obesity, says study

A new study reveals an alarming global obesity rise surpassing 1 billion individuals. While underweight rates decrease, obesity rates quadruple in children and adolescents, and double or triple in adults. Experts call for action to improve food access and tackle both forms of malnutrition.

Rahul Pratyush Written By: Rahul Pratyush New Delhi Published on: March 01, 2024 11:23 IST
Image Source : GOOGLE Over one billion people living with obesity, says study

The Lancet recently published a global analysis highlighting the alarming rise in obesity worldwide, surpassing one billion individuals. This analysis sheds light on the shift in malnutrition trends, where obesity has become the most prevalent form in many countries, alongside a decline in underweight individuals since 1990.

The analysis reveals a significant increase in obesity rates among children, adolescents, and adults between 1990 and 2022. In children and adolescents, obesity rates quadrupled, while among adults, rates more than doubled in women and nearly tripled in men. Conversely, the proportion of underweight individuals decreased over the same period. In 2022, approximately 159 million children and adolescents and 879 million adults were living with obesity globally. This stark increase highlights the urgent need for interventions to address this public health crisis.

Efforts to combat obesity require improving the availability and affordability of healthy foods. Professor Majid Ezzati emphasises the need for concerted efforts to address both forms of malnutrition. He said, “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. At the same time, hundreds of millions are still affected by undernutrition, particularly in some of the poorest parts of the world. To successfully tackle both forms of malnutrition it is vital we significantly improve the availability and affordability of healthy, nutritious foods."

The study, conducted by the NCD Risk Factor Collaboration, in collaboration with the WHO, analysed data from over 220 million individuals across 190 countries. It utilised body mass index (BMI) to understand global trends in obesity and underweight from 1990 to 2022. Between 1990 and 2022, there was a significant increase in global obesity rates among both girls and boys, with almost all countries experiencing rises. Conversely, the proportion of underweight girls decreased from 10.3% to 8.2%, and for boys, it decreased from 16.7% to 10.8%. Decreases in underweight rates were observed in 44 countries for girls and 80 countries for boys.

In 2022, approximately 160 million children and adolescents were affected by obesity, compared to 31 million in 1990. Conversely, the number of underweight children decreased to 77 million girls and 108 million boys in 2022, down from 81 million girls and 138 million boys in 1990. Among adults, obesity rates more than doubled in women and nearly tripled in men between 1990 and 2022. The proportion of underweight adults halved during the same period.

In total, nearly 880 million adults were living with obesity in 2022, compared to 195 million in 1990. Combined with the 159 million children living with obesity in 2022, this represents over one billion people affected by obesity. Conversely, 183 million women and 164 million men were affected by underweight in 2022, fewer than in 1990.

The shift in trends has led to a transition where a larger number of people are affected by obesity than underweight in most countries. In 2022, obesity rates surpassed underweight rates for girls and boys in approximately two-thirds of the world's countries.

In India, the obesity rate surged from 1990 to 2022, reaching 9.8% for women and 5.4% for men. Despite ranking relatively low in obesity prevalence globally, India faces a growing challenge in addressing this issue.

“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 WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on the importance of preventive measures and evidence-based policies to address obesity. He further added, "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."

The rise in obesity rates presents a multifaceted challenge requiring immediate attention at both global and local levels. Addressing obesity demands a comprehensive approach encompassing dietary interventions, physical activity promotion, and policy measures. By prioritising public health initiatives, we can strive towards a healthier future for all.

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