Updated March 1st, 2024 at 14:20 IST

More Than A Billion People Are Obese - Causes And Implications Of The Global Health Emergency

A new Lancet report has revealed that more than a billion people are obese, which is a multifold increase from 3 decades back.

Global obesity epidemic
Global obesity epidemic | Image:Unsplash

A common question that we have been left to answer for a couple decades now is if we are facing a global obesity epidemic? A new report by Lancet shows that the percentage of obese people has seen a rapid increase in recent years and India is also reeling under the effect of this obesity epidemic.

What is obesity? Is it different from being ‘overweight’?

According to the UN, “Overweight and obesity are defined as abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that presents a risk to health. A body mass index (BMI) over 25 is considered overweight, and over 30 is obese. The issue has grown to epidemic proportions, with over 4 million people dying each year as a result of being overweight or obese in 2017 according to the global burden of disease.”

Obesity is a huge health challenge | Image: Pexels

“Obesity is one side of the double burden of malnutrition, and today more people are obese than underweight in every region except sub-Saharan Africa and Asia”, the UN says.


What does the Lancet report say?

The report by Lancet found that, “From 1990 to 2022, the combined prevalence of underweight and obesity in adults decreased in 11 countries (6%) for women and 17 (9%) for men with a posterior probability of at least 0.80 that the observed changes were true decreases. The combined prevalence increased in 162 countries (81%) for women and 140 countries (70%) for men with a posterior probability of at least 0.80. This means, more than a billion people in the world are obese.


In 2022, the combined prevalence of underweight and obesity was highest in island nations in the Caribbean and Polynesia and Micronesia, and countries in the Middle East and north Africa. Obesity prevalence was higher than underweight with posterior probability of at least 0·80 in 177 countries (89%) for women and 145 (73%) for men in 2022, whereas the converse was true in 16 countries (8%) for women, and 39 (20%) for men.”

Is India facing an obesity epidemic?

Global obesity is on the rise | Image: Pexels

According to the Lancet report, in India, the obesity rate increased from 0.1% in 1990 to 3.1% in 2022 for girls, and 0.1% to 3.9%, for boys. In absolute numbers, about 12.5 million kids between the ages of five and 19 are overweight in 2022 compared to 0.4 million in 1990. Of the 12.5, 7.3 million were boys and 5.2 million girls.

In the prevalence of obesity category for girls and boys, India ranked 174th highest in the world in 2022, a considerable and worrying increase. In another report, Lancet noted “The prevalence of abdominal obesity in the country was found to be 40% in women and 12% in men. The findings show that 5–6 out of 10 women between the ages of 30–49 are abdominally obese”.


What is causing obesity?

According to a Harvard study, the causes of obesity are as varied as the people it affects. At its most basic, obesity results when someone regularly takes in more calories than needed. The body stores these excess calories as body fat, and over time the extra pounds add up. Eat fewer calories than the body burns, weight goes down. This equation can be deceptively simple, though, because it doesn’t account for the multitude of factors that affect what we eat, how much we exercise, and how our bodies process all this energy.


Following are causes that can increase the possibility of obesity

  • Prenatal and Postnatal Influences
  • Unhealthy Diets
  • Too Much Television, Too Little Activity, and Too Little Sleep
  • Toxic Environment-Food and Physical Activity

Published March 1st, 2024 at 14:20 IST

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