For all the talk about the world getting smaller, it’s also getting bigger. According to a recent study in The Lancet, the worldwide prevalence of people who are overweight and obese has increased 27.5 percent in adults and 47.1 percent in children over the last three decades. Almost a third of the world’s population, 2.1 billion people, is now fat.
“Parts of the world are quite literally eating themselves to death,” as the director-general of the World Health Organization put it.
The extra pounds can’t just be shrugged off. As one of the lead causes of preventable deaths in the United States, obesity leads to complicated and expensive diseases: diabetes, heart disease and cancer. And America has the dubious distinction of having the largest number of obese individuals in the world, the study found.
The problem doesn’t seem to be abating. Not a single country included in the massive survey saw a significant decline in obesity. The troubling trend comes in the era of easy transportation and processed foods, where fewer people are exercising.
Public obesity prevention programs have been found to help, but individual responsibility when it comes to diet and exercise is equally important. Reducing the number of people who are overweight is important to the community as well because of the huge economic consequences — nearly $190 billion a year in the United States.
When a federal report released in February noted a significant drop in obesity among children ages 2 to 5, it seemed like the tide had turned in the public health campaign against the disease. But for such a widespread and complex disease, it’s clear that more will need to be done.