Global obesity rates continue to climb

More than 640 million people now fat, BMI data suggest

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. 

NCD-RisC/Lancet 2016

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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
In 1975, the global average BMI for men was 21.7. Men in the United States, Canada, Australia and several other countries had higher BMIs (orange) than men in India and most parts of Africa (yellow). BMIs of 30 and above signify obesity. NCD-RisC/Lancet 2016
Global BMI map for men in 2014
By 2014, the global average BMI for men had jumped to 24.2, though in many countries, BMI was even higher (dark orange and red). In Polynesia and Micronesia, for example, the average BMI was 29.2. NCD-RisC/Lancet 2016
Global BMI map for women 1975
In 1975, the global average BMI for women was 22.1, which falls in the “healthy” range of 18.5‒24.9. NCD-RisC/Lancet 2016
Global BMI map for women in 2014
By 2014, the global average BMI for women had risen to 24.4. As with men, BMI was higher in some parts of the world. In Polynesia and Micronesia, for example, women’s average BMI was 32.2. NCD-RisC/Lancet 2016

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