Health. More than a billion humans affected by obesity, the number of young people on the rise

Health.  More than a billion humans affected by obesity, the number of young people on the rise

Obesity now affects more than a billion people worldwide, including children and adolescents, according to an estimate published a few days before World Obesity Day on March 4, which shows an acceleration of the scourge in low- and middle-income countries.

Between 1990 and 2022, the rate of obesity in the population quadrupled among children and adolescents and doubled among adults, indicates this large study published in the British medical journal The Lancet and carried out in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO).

This “epidemic” has progressed “more rapidly than anticipated”, noted Professor Francesco Branca, director of the “Nutrition for health and development” department of the WHO. Crossing the threshold of one billion people affected was initially envisaged around 2030, according to Professor Majid Ezzati of Imperial College London, one of the main authors of the study.

Obese young people are worrying

Based on data from around 220 million people in more than 190 countries, this work suggests that almost 880 million adults were living with obesity in 2022 (504 million women and 374 million men). In 1990, there were 195 million.

Since 1990, the obesity rate has almost tripled among men (from 4.8% in 1990 to 14% in 2022) and more than doubled among women (from 8.8% to 18.5%), with disparities between countries.

Even more worrying, in 2022 this disease affected nearly 160 million children and adolescents (94 million boys and 65 million girls). Some 30 years earlier, there were 31 million.

Obesity, a complex and multifactorial chronic disease, is accompanied by an increase in mortality due to other pathologies, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and certain cancers. The Covid-19 pandemic, where being overweight was a risk factor, was an illustration of this.

“World problem”

Another lesson: certain low- or middle-income countries, notably in Polynesia and Micronesia, the Caribbean, the Middle East and North Africa, now display obesity rates higher than those of many industrialized countries, particularly in Europe , according to the study.

“In the past, we tended to consider obesity as a problem of rich countries, now it is a global problem,” remarks Francesco Branca. He sees in particular the effect of a “rapid transformation, and not for the better, of food systems in low- or middle-income countries”.

Conversely, obesity shows “signs of decline in certain southern European countries, especially for women, Spain and France being notable examples”, according to Majid Ezzati. Now, “in most countries, a greater number of people are affected by obesity than by underweight” (also called underweight), which has decreased since 1990, points out the study.

What solutions?

However, underweight remains a major problem in certain regions of the world, such as South Asia or sub-Saharan Africa. It is linked to increased mortality in women and very young children before and after childbirth, or a higher risk of death from infectious diseases.

For the WHO, beneficial actions are insufficiently applied: taxing sugary drinks, subsidizing healthy foods, limiting the marketing of unhealthy foods to children, encouraging physical activity, etc.

The management of obesity has entered a new era for several months: treatments for diabetes also act against this pathology, arousing the appetite of pharmaceutical groups and nourishing the hopes of millions of patients. “These drugs are an important tool, but not a solution” to obesity and prevention, judged Francesco Branca. “It is important to look at the long-term or side effects of these medications,” he warned.

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