Global obesity rates continue to climb | Science News

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Global obesity rates continue to climb

More than 640 million people now fat, BMI data suggest

6:30pm, March 31, 2016
obesity graph

GETTING BIGGER The percentage of obese people in the world has shot up in the past 40 years, more than tripling for men and more than doubling for women from 1975 to 2014. 

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Despite massive public health campaigns, the rise in worldwide obesity rates continues to hurtle along like a freight train on greased tracks.

In 2014, more than 640 million men and women were obese (measured as a body mass index of 30 or higher). That’s up from 105 million in 1975, researchers estimate in the April 2 Lancet. The researchers analyzed four decades of height and weight data for more than 19 million adults, and then calculated global rates based on population data. On average, people worldwide are gaining about 1.5 kilograms per decade — roughly the weight of a half-gallon of ice cream.

But the road isn’t entirely rocky. During the same time period, average life expectancy also jumped: from less than 59 years to more than 71 years, George Davey Smith points out in a comment accompanying the new study. Smith, an epidemiologist at the University of Bristol in England, boils the data down to a single, seemingly paradoxical sentence: “The world is at once fatter and healthier.”

Global BMI map for men in 1975

Global BMI map for men in 2014

Global BMI map for women 1975Global BMI map for women in 2014


NCD Risk Factor Collaboration. Trends in adult body-mass index in 200 countries from 1975 to 2014: a pooled analysis of 1698 population-based measurement studies with 19.2 million participants. The Lancet. Vol. 387, April 2, 2016, p. 1377. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(16)30054-X.

Further Reading

T.H. Saey. A good diet for you may be bad for me. Science News. Vol. 189, January 9, 2016, p. 8

M. Rosen. New dietary guidelines emphasize big picture. Science News Online, January 7, 2016.

N. Seppa. Interactive map tracks obesity in the United States. Science News. Vol. 186, October 18, 2014, p. 29.

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