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More than a billion people worldwide are obese: Lancet

While India still has a relatively low prevalence of obesity when compared with the global average, the situation has changed significantly in the past few decades

More than a billion people worldwide are obese: Lancet
[Source photo: Chetan Jha/Press Insider]

More than one billion people, including children, adolescents, and adults, are living with obesity, a Lancet study showed.

The analysis showed obesity has become the most common form of malnutrition as rates of underweight fell.

While India still has a relatively low prevalence of obesity compared to the global average, the situation has changed significantly over the past few decades.

Between 1990 and 2022, the obesity rate for women in India climbed from 1.2% to 9.8%, and for men, it rose from 0.5% to 5.4%.

Despite this increase, India currently ranks 19th lowest (or 182nd highest) for female obesity and 21st lowest (or 180th highest) for male obesity.

Worldwide, in 2022, children and adolescents were four times more likely to be obese when compared to 1990.

This rise isn’t limited to younger generations, with adult obesity rates more than doubling in women and nearly tripling in men over the same time. As a result, over one billion people, including 159 million children and adolescents, were living with obesity in 2022, highlighting a significant shift in the global landscape of malnutrition.

Professor Majid Ezzati of Imperial College London and lead author of the study, expressed concern that the obesity epidemic observed among adults in many parts of the world in 1990 is now mirrored in children and adolescents.

“At the same time, hundreds of millions are still affected by undernutrition, particularly in some of the poorest parts of the world. To successfully tackle both forms of malnutrition it is vital we significantly improve the availability and affordability of healthy, nutritious foods,” he added.

An estimated nearly 880 million adults struggled with obesity in 2022, a four-and-a-half-times increase from 195 million during the 1990s.

This increase is further reflected in the breakdown by gender: 504 million women and 374 million men were affected in 2022, compared with 128 million and 67 million in 1990, respectively.

This worrying trend extends to younger generations, with 159 million children classified as obese in 2022, pushing the total number of individuals affected globally to over one billion.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), emphasized the critical need to address obesity prevention and management across the entire lifespan, encompassing diet, physical activity, and appropriate care when necessary, as highlighted by this new study.

“Getting back on track to meet the global targets for curbing obesity will take the work of governments and communities, supported by evidence-based policies from WHO and national public health agencies. Importantly, it requires the cooperation of the private sector, which must be accountable for the health impacts of their products,” the WHO chief added.

In South and Southeast Asian nations, and for men in certain African countries, the double burden of both forms of malnutrition declined as underweight prevalence dropped sharply in these regions.

India has seen a significant decline in underweight prevalence over the past few decades.

From 1990 to 2022, the underweight rate for women dropped from 41.7% to 13.7%, and for men, it decreased from 39.8% to 12.5%.

While India still ranks 13th highest globally for female underweight and 26th highest for male underweight in 2022, these reductions represent substantial progress.

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