Obesity rates are rising steadily across the globe, allowing obesity to surpass hunger as a world health crisis, experts say.
According to a new study from the Overseas Development Institute in the UK, one in three people worldwide is now overweight, up from one in four in 1980.
Along with our weight, so grow the rates of heart attack, stroke, and diabetes, which are expected to put a real squeeze on healthcare systems already feeling the pinch of obesity-related health problems.
North America has the dubious distinction of being the region with the highest percentage of global obesity, researchers said, with Australia and the United Kingdom not far behind.
Experts blame the rising numbers on the scale to a shift away from eating cereals and grains to the consumption of more fats, sugars, and oils.
Researchers said data suggests income is closely linked to the changing statistics, and said that the majority of increases were seen in developing countries where incomes are rising, like Mexico and Egypt.
“People with higher incomes have the ability to choose the kind of foods they want,” said Steve Wiggins, one of the authors of the report, in a BBC News interview. “Changes in lifestyle, the increasing availability of processed foods, advertising… have all led to dietary changes.”
The numbers are pretty staggering. Figures show that 904 million people in developing countries are now classed as overweight or obese, compared to just 250 million in 1980, though populations have merely doubled in these regions.
Many of those people are moving from rural to urban regions were jobs are more plentiful, leading to less exercise, which has exacerbated the problem.
Wiggins is calling for increased public health campaigns to target unhealthy food options to combat what he calls “an explosion in overweight and obesity in the past 30 years,” and help prevent continued increases, which will certainly have serious health implications.
“The challenge,” he said, “is to make healthy diets viable whilst reducing the appeal of foods which carry a less certain nutritional value.”
In 2012, a report that appeared in the British medical journal The Lancet revealed that obesity had become a bigger health threat than hunger worldwide.
According to the Global Burden of Disease, diseases including diabetes, stroke and heart disease had also taken the top spots on the list of leading causes of long-term illness.