John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.
The rest of the planet isn't doing so well staying skinny, either.
Should the world's nations unite, maybe they should choose this to go on the new flag: a big, bulging gut popping off rapid-fire rounds of shirt buttons. That's because humanity is getting heavier and heavier, with almost one-third of the planet's population now classified as overweight or obese.
The United States in particular is struggling with major poundage, according to just-released research from the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. The "vast majority" of American adults are overweight or obese, and it has the highest proportion of these weight conditions out of 188 countries, according to the study. (That's 13 percent of the global total, despite only 5 percent of people living there). In the U.S., about three-quarters of men and 60 percent of women have a weight problem. And the youth is in its own worrisome category, with nearly 30 percent of boys and girls under 20 said to be overweight or obese, a rise from 19 percent in 1980.
These same youngsters tend to struggle with weight most often in the age 10 to 14 category, a fact that concerns the study's lead scientist:
"The rise in obesity among children in the U.S. is especially troubling," said Marie Ng, Assistant Professor of Global Health at IHME and the paper’s lead author. "We know that there are severe health effects related to childhood obesity, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and many cancers. We need to be thinking now about how to turn this trend around."
The researchers gathered their sobering assessment of world health after digging through 33 years of trend data. (For their purposes, "overweight" is considered as having a body mass index between 25 and 29 and "obese" is anything over 30.) During that more than three-decade period, not a single country they monitored managed to reduce its rates of obesity.
Developed countries have actually seen obesity rates slow around 2006 from an initial rise in the 1980s, they say. But developing nations, where most of the planet's population lives, are likely to continue struggling with weight issues. Christopher Murray, another researcher, warns that "we expect obesity to rise steadily as incomes rise in low- and middle-income countries in particular, unless urgent steps are taken to address this public health crisis."
It's estimated that weight-related diseases, mostly of cardiovascular variety, led to 3.4 million deaths worldwide in 2010. The researchers say that future rises in obesity could prompt declines in life expectancy in many countries.
Here are a few of the more notable findings. The UW folks have also put together a visualization tool to explore the data, and there's an infographic below:
• More than 50% of the world’s 671 million obese live in 10 countries (ranked beginning with the countries with the most obese people): US, China, India, Russia, Brazil, Mexico, Egypt, Germany, Pakistan, and Indonesia.
• In high-income countries, some of the greatest increases in adult obesity have been in the US, Australia (where nearly 30% of men and women are obese), and the UK (where around a quarter of the adult population is obese).
• Today, 2.1 billion people – nearly one-third of the world’s population – are overweight or obese. The number of overweight and obese individuals in the world has increased from 857 million (20%) in 1980 to 2.1 billion (30%) in 2013.
• From 1980 to 2013, the prevalence of overweight and obesity in children increased by nearly 50%.