Most comprehensive study to date reveals climbing worldwide obesity prevalence

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1. Globally, the combined prevalence of overweight body habitus and obesity increased by 27.5% for adults and 47.1% for children between the years 1980 and 2013.  

2. 62% of the world’s population suffering from obesity live in developing countries. In the developing world, women had higher rates of obesity than men, while the opposite is true in the developed countries.  

Evidence Rating Level: 2 (Good) 

Study Rundown: Global concern about health risks associated with rising obesity has led to widespread calls for monitoring of prevalence of overweight body habitus and obesity. This study investigated changes in prevalence of obesity and overweight body habitus worldwide over the past 33 years and found that no country had achieved significant declines in obesity rates. Combined, the number of obese and overweight people in the world climbed from 857 million in 1980 to 2.1 billion in 2013. Ten countries were found to be home to more than 50% of the 671 million obese people in the world, listed in order of number of obese individuals: USA, China, India, Russia, Brazil, Mexico, Egypt, Germany, Pakistan, and Indonesia. As the most comprehensive global study to date, this study provided critical information for guiding future policy on this global health priority. Limitations of the study included failure to distinguish between variations in subnational populations, such as socioeconomic categories.

This study was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Click to read the study, published today in The Lancet

Relevant Reading: Global burden of obesity in 2005 and projections to 2030

In-Depth [systematic review]: This study compiled global data on 183 countries from 1,769 published studies, reports, and surveys on prevalence of overweight and obesity by sex, age, country. A mixed effects regression was used to calculate the uncertainty intervals of 95% (95% UI). Adults were categorized as overweight if body max index (BMI) between 25 and 29kg/m2 and obese for BMI over 30 kg/m2. From 1980 to 2014, the prevalence increased from 28.8% (28.4-29.3, reported in 95% UI, same below) in 1980 to 36.9% (36.3 to 37.4) for men, and from 29.8% (29.3 to 30.2) to 38.0% (37.5 to 38.5) for women. The prevalence for all adults combined rose by 27.5%.

Child obesity also rose. In the developed world, the prevalence of overweight and obese children has increased between 1980 and 2013, from 16.9% (16.1-17.7) to 23.8% (22.9-24.7) for boys and from 16.2% (15.5-17.1) to 22.6% (21.7-23.6) for girls. This upward trend is mirrored in developing countries.

Some evidence of slowing in the rate of increase in obesity and overweight body habitus in the developed world suggested that the epidemic may have peaked in developed countries and that other countries may not reach the high rates of more than 40% found in some developing countries.

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