A Third of All People on Earth Are Overweight Or Obese

Obesity rates are rising across the board

Thermogram images of an obese woman. Science Photo Library/Corbis

Obesity is a major health problem worldwide: global obesity rate are soaring, and as obesity play a role in diabetes, heart problems, stroke and other issues, it's putting a major strain on health care systems. The number of people who are obese or overweight is climbing across the board, said Reuters, reporting on a new analysis:

The researchers said obesity - once a malady of rich nations - now grips people of all ages, incomes and regions, with not one country succeeding in cutting its obesity rate.

The researchers looked at how the prevalence of obesity has changed in 188 of the world's roughly 196 countries from 1980 to 2013. In adults, says Reuters, the rates rose 28 percent over the time period. For children, rates of being obese or overweight climbed 47 precent. (Childhood obesity started at a lower baseline.) In total there are 2.1 billion obese or overweight people on Earth—one third of the entire global population.

The causes of the global rise in obesity rates are varied, though they include the obvious culprits: eating too much junk food and not getting enough exercise. For some people, the answer really is that simple. For others, the rising obesity rate is a symptom of underlying problems.

In America, low-quality food, like fast food and junk food, is sometimes all that's available to “food insecure and low-income people,” says the Food Research and Action Center. That reality, the center says, heightens those groups' vulnerability to obesity:

More specifically, obesity among food insecure people – as well as among low-income people – occurs in part because they are subject to the same influences as other Americans (e.g., more sedentary lifestyles, increased portion sizes), but also because they face unique challenges in adopting healthful behaviors.

In some parts of the world, though, obesity rates are a consequence of systematic cultural issues. In some Arab nations, for instance, the incredibly high rates of obesity in women can be partly explained by the fact that, for women, exercising in public is frowned upon, says Nature.

Of the total global population of obese and overweight people, though, the United States takes far more than its share of the pie. Of the United States' 318 million or so people, 34.6 percent are obese and 69 percent fall into the broader category of “overweight and obese”—that's 110 million and 220 million people, respectively. Of the 2.1 billion overweight or obese people worldwide, then, Americans represent 13 percent of the obese population, and 10 percent of the population of people who are obese or overweight. That's a lot, given that the U.S. is just 4.4 percent of the actual global population.

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