Nearly Two Billion People Worldwide Now Overweight

Washington, D.C.—More than 1.9 billion people worldwide were overweight in 2010, a 25 percent increase since 2002, a new Worldwatch analysis shows.
A survey of statistics in 177 countries shows 38 percent of adults – those 15 years or older – are now overweight. The trend is strongly correlated to rising income and to an increase in preventable health problems, writes Richard H. Weil in the latest Vital Signs Online release from the Worldwatch Institute.

The trend over the last decade toward heavier populations cuts across regions and income levels. In India, 19 percent of adults are overweight, up from 14 percent in 2002. In Mexico, the figure has risen by 8 percentage points since 2002, while Brazil’s is up by 7 points and the rate in the U.K. is up by 5 points. East Asia has seen a 4 point increase over the period. The United States leads all industrialized countries with 78.6 percent of the adult population overweight, although Micronesia and Polynesia top all countries. There, nearly 88 percent of the over-15 population is overweight.

“Overweight” is defined as people with a body mass index (BMI) of 25 or greater. A person with a BMI of 30 or above is usually labeled “obese,” but here the term overweight covers overweight and obese populations combined.

That analysis shows that some 75 percent of adults in the 10 richest countries are overweight, while in the 10 poorest, only 18 percent are. On a regional level, the correlation between income and being overweight holds reasonably well. Europe generally has elevated levels, for example, while low-income sub-Saharan Africa averages lower BMI levels. At a national level, however, the situation is more complex. A comparison of percentages of people overweight in all countries and their GDPs reveals a positive but weak correlation, with cultural, societal, and possibly genetic factors playing heavily into the mix.

For more information, please visit http://vitalsigns.worldwatch.org/vs-trend/levels-overweight-rise.

Note to Editors: Journalists can obtain a complimentary copy of this Vital Signs Online by contacting Supriya Kumar at skumar@worldwatch.org.

About the Worldwatch Institute: Worldwatch Institute delivers the insights and ideas that empower decision makers to create an environmentally sustainable society that meets human needs. Worldwatch focuses on the 21st-century challenges of climate change, resource degradation, population growth, and poverty by developing and disseminating solid data and innovative strategies for achieving a sustainable society.The Institute’s State of the World report is published annually in more than 20 languages. For more information, visit www.worldwatch.org.