The scourge of obesity, bringing in its train a host of health and economic
problems that could one day cripple economies, is more prevalent in some
countries than others, but still constitutes a global epidemic, says WHO.
A billion people out of the world's six billion population are now considered
overweight, compared with 800 million who do not have enough to eat.
Some 2,000 health experts gather in Boston, Massachusetts on Friday for a
four-day conference on treatment and prevention of obesity, organized by the
North American Society for the Study of Obesity (NAASO).
While accounting for less than five percent of the population in China, Japan
and some African nations, the proportion of obesity at the other extreme exceeds
75% in some urban zones of Samoa, and 45% among certain demographic groups in
the United States, notably among African Americans.
And even within China, more than 20% of the people in certain cities are
classified as seriously overweight.
The international standard for determining obesity is the body-mass index
(BMI), defined as one's weight in kilograms divided by the square of one's
height in meters.
A person who is 1.80 meters tall and weights 90 kilos will be considered as
overweight because his BMI 27.8 is above 25kg/m2, and would be classified as
obese if weighing 100 kilos, yielding a BMI 30.8 above 30kg/m2.
In the United States, 30% of adults are clinically obese, some 60 million
people. In Europe, Britain tops the list with 23%, nearly twice the rate in
Germany, where 12% tip the scales into obesity, according to the OECD. Italy the
land of pasta only counts 8% of its population as severely overweight.
But even in European countries where obesity is less prevalent, the
percentage has increased steadily over time. In France, with a population of
just over 60 million, 5.9 million people are obese today, whereas the figure for
10 years ago was only 3.6.
Overall, there are some 200 million adults in the EU fully 45% of the
population who are measurably overweight.
Rates of excess weight and obesity have climbed to alarming levels among
children too, experts say.
There are about 14 million overweight pre-teen youngsters in the European
Union at least 3 million of them obese with an additional 500,000 crossing the
line every year, according to recent study by the International Task Force on
In the United States, the proportion of youth between the age of six and 19
classified as overweight tripled between 1980 and 2002, according to a federal
study published earlier this year by the Journal of the American Medical
Developing countries are not immune to the problem, experts note. In
Thailand, for example, the percentage of five-to-12-year-olds who are obese has
climbed from 12.2 to 15.6 in only two years, according to WHO.
The exploding rates of obesity contribute heavily to increased rates of many
chronic diseases such as type-2 diabetes, hyper-tension, arteriosclerosis,
cerebral hemorrhaging, and certain kinds of cancer.
Type-2 diabetes was once a disease that only affected adults, most often
advanced in age, but today it has become common even among obese pre-adolescent
children, WHO said.