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U.S. Leads the Way in Overweight People, But the Rest of the World is Gaining

Update Date: Jun 15, 2017 09:25 PM EDT

The amount of dangerously overweight and obese people in the world is rising.

According to a new study in the New England Journal of Medicine, an estimated 2 billion adults and children globally are overweight -- nearly a third of the total population. The rise in obesity is being blamed on urbanization, poor diet, and not enough exercise. 

The United States has the largest percentage of obese children at 13% while Egypt leads with the most obese adults at 35%. Since 1980, the amount of obese people has doubled in 70 countries and has continually increased in most other countries. 

The study analyzed data from 68.5 million people and studied their Body Mass Index (BMI) -- the ratio between a person's weight and height. Anyone with a BMI of over 30 is considered obese. 12% of adults and 5% of children are categorized as obese worldwide.

"People who shrug off weight gain do so at their own risk -- risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and other life-threatening conditions," said Dr. Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.

Data was also gathered from the Global Burden of Disease which explores all major diseases globally. 70% of deaths related to an elevated BMI were due to cardiovascular disease, with diabetes being the second leading cause of death. 

"To quantify the burden of disease related to high BMI for each disease end point, we calculated the population attributable fraction according to country, age, sex, and year<' said the lead author. "We computed the numbers of deaths and disability-adjusted life-years related to high BMI for each country, according to age, sex, year, and cause, by multiplying the population attributable fraction by the total number of deaths or disability-adjusted life-years, as estimated in the Global Burden of Disease study for that country, age, sex, year, and cause."

It is no secret that obesity is a leading cause of disease. What scientists don't know yet is what the effects of being obese over a long period of time will be to the global population. People are getting fatter earlier in life and therefore living with obesity for a longer period of time than they previously had. The diseases from obesity and the problems that causes worldwide could be set to skyrocket. 

"This re-emphasizes what we already know about the obesity epidemic," said Goodarz Danaei, Professor of Global Health at Harvard. "But it raises the alarm that we may be facing a wave of obesity in the coming years across high and low income countries." 

The global rise in obesity affected all income levels and the researchers were quick to blame the food that we eat and the marketing of that food as the leading cause in the rise. 

"Changes in the food environment and food systems are probably major drivers," they write. "Increased availability, accessibility, and affordability of energy dense foods, along with intense marketing of such foods, could explain excess energy intake and weight gain among different populations." 

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