Obesity affects more than a billion people worldwide

Obesity affects more than a billion people worldwide

Obesity now affects more than a billion people worldwide, children and adolescents included. This is the result of an estimate published this Friday 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 quintupled among children and adolescents and increased 4.5-fold 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”, notes 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 (United Kingdom), one of the main authors of the study.

880 million adults and 160 million children and adolescents

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). 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 such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and certain cancers. The pandemic of Covid-19a disease for which excess weight is a risk factor, was an illustration of this.

It’s no longer a “rich country problem”

The study sheds further light. Some low- and middle-income countries, notably in Polynesia and Micronesia, the Caribbean, the Middle East and North Africa, now have obesity rates higher than those of many industrialized countries, particularly in Europe. “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”.

Now, “in most countries, more people are affected by obesity than by underweight”, which has declined since 1990. Underweight, however, remains a major problem in some 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.

Conversely, obesity shows “signs of decline in certain southern European countries, especially for women, Spain and France being notable examples”, according to Majid Ezzati.

Some countries combine undernourishment and poor quality food

Not eating enough, but also eating poorly: many low- and middle-income countries are experiencing the “double burden” of undernutrition and obesity. Part of their population still does not have access to a sufficient number of calories, another no longer has this problem but their diet is of poor quality.

“This new study highlights the importance of preventing and managing obesity from early in life and into adulthood, through diet, physical activity and healthy adequate care to meet needs,” emphasizes Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the WHO. He calls for “cooperation from the private sector, which must be responsible for the impact of its products on health”. 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 also entered a new era several months ago. 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. » Physical activity and lifestyle adaptation must also complement treatment.

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