Spotlight on the Global Problem of Rising Obesity Rates

Once considered the concern of the world’s richest countries, rising overweight and obesity rates impact every nation in the world, affecting even developing countries. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) statistics, by 2016, more than 1.9 billion adults worldwide were overweight, with 650 million of them classed as obese.

Obesity and overweight are defined as an accumulation of excessive or abnormal fat levels to the point where it may impair health. The Body Mass Index (BMI) is endorsed by medical professionals as a method of tracking adulthood obesity.

Here is what you need to know about this health crisis and what can be done to address it:

A person with a BMI of 25 or greater is classed as overweight.

If individuals have a BMI of 30 or more, they are considered obese.

The WHO advocates BMI as a useful population-measure of obesity, since it is the same for adults irrespective of age or sex. However, the WHO does add the caveat that BMI may not be the best method of gauging the amount of fat in different individuals, recommending that the measure is used as a rough guide. In addition, in children, age is a critical extenuating factor in terms of calculating BMI.

According to the WHO, by 2016, 39 percent of adults worldwide were overweight or obese.

Statistics published by the WHO indicate that most of the global population inhabits countries where obesity kills more people than being underweight. By 2019, an estimated 38 million children aged 5 and under were classed as overweight or obese, according to WHO. Many governments are investing considerable funding into nationwide information campaigns, encouraging citizens to increase their and make healthy eating choices.

Nevertheless, in the United States alone, medical costs associated with adult obesity currently amount to as much as $210 billion per year. The majority of that funding is used to treating obesity-related diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and other debilitating and life-threatening conditions.

The rise in obesity is due to a number of factors.

The fundamental cause of excessive weight gain is an imbalance between calories burned and calories consumed. According to the WHO, rising obesity rates are largely attributable to a global proliferation of high fat, high sugar foods. Another factor is a general transition to increasingly sedentary lifestyles, with long periods of physical inactivity, increased urbanization, and changing modes of transportation.

The WHO points to evolving societies and environments as a significant factor in changes in dietary behavior and physical activity patterns. The organization underlines the contributing impact of a lack of supportive policies in sectors such as food processing, health, transport, agriculture, environment, marketing, distribution, and education.

Obesity is correlated with a number of serious health consequences.

Being overweight or obese exposes individuals to an increased risk of developing a variety of health conditions, including:

Cardiovascular disease. This leading cause of death is associated with conditions such as stroke and heart disease.

Musculoskeletal disorders. This category includes osteoarthritis, a degenerative condition that causes painful swelling in the joints.

Certain cancer types. Obesity can lead to breast, endometrial, prostate, ovarian, kidney, gallbladder, liver, and colon cancer.

The WHO points out that as BMI increases, so does the risk of developing one or more of these noncommunicable diseases.

Childhood obesity increases the risk of adulthood disability and premature death.

In addition to increased future risks, obese and overweight children can experience breathing difficulties, as well as increased risk of hypertension, fractures, insulin resistance, early markers of cardiovascular disease, and psychological effects.

Many countries face the combined impact of obesity and malnutrition.

As developing nations continue to deal with malnutrition and infectious disease, many are also experiencing a simultaneous upsurge in conditions triggered by obesity. Malnutrition and obesity coexist increasingly commonly.

Children in developing countries are more likely to receive insufficient pre-natal, infant, and child nutritional support. At the same time, many of these children are exposed to high sodium, high sugar, fat rich, energy dense diets that are lacking in vital micronutrients.

Obesity is a preventable disease.

While overweight and obesity rates are skyrocketing globally, the good news is that obesity is largely preventable through the adoption of regular physical activity and healthier food choices. Education is key in promoting healthy lifestyles at a societal level. However, individual responsibility can only take full effect if people have access to those healthy food choices.

Therefore, sustained implementation of evidence and population-based policies advocating healthier dietary choices and regular physical activity are vital. Additionally, it is the responsibility of governments and policymakers to ensure that everyone has access to economical, healthy, nutritious food choices, particularly the world’s poorest individuals.

Feeding America supports federal food assistance programs in the United States, feeding at-risk US citizens. In addition to its anti-hunger programs, Feeding America collaborates on federal tax policies, helping get more nutritious choices into American food banks.

In developing nations, organizations like ActionAid play a critical role, supporting local NGOs in communitywide health campaigns. With a special focus on women and children, ActionAid advocates sustainable solutions, helping its clients build climate-resilient livelihoods, providing nutritious food not just for themselves and their family, but for the wider community.

Douglas Healy is a Springfield, Missouri-based attorney with nearly 20 years of legal experience.

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