There’s No Hope of Halting the Obesity Crisis in the Next Decade

By 2025, nearly one-fifth of adults worldwide will be seriously overweight.
A McDonald’s in Tokyo. (Photo: Fletcherjcm/Flickr)
Apr 1, 2016· 1 MIN READ
Willy Blackmore is TakePart’s Food editor.

The United Nations has a goal to stop obesity in its tracks within the next decade, but according to a new study published in medical journal The Lancet, there’s zero hope of achieving it. Instead, the researchers estimate that one-fifth of adults around the world will be obese by 2025. In 2014, one in eight adults was obese globally.

“Over the past 40 years, we have changed from a world in which underweight prevalence was more than double that of obesity to one in which more people are obese than underweight,” Majid Ezzati, a professor of public health at Imperial College London and the study’s lead author, told The Guardian. While reducing the amount of underweight people in the world has long been a goal in global development circles, the concurrent rise in obesity is nothing to celebrate.

Nearly 120 million of those obese adults live in wealthy Western countries: Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The same countries are home to the highest concentrations of severely obese people. Many nutritionists and public health experts blame the “Western diet”—high in processed carbs, sugars, and fats—which is increasingly being adopted around the world for the rise in global obesity rates. Following those Western nations, Middle Eastern and North African countries have the second- and third-highest populations of obese people, respectively.

But even if obesity and its attending health problems—and health-care costs—has come to overshadow people who are underweight, that public health problem remains a very real threat in sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia, the study maintains. Countries have been coping with underweight residents in parts of Africa for decades—in Burundi, for example, less than 1 percent of men are obese—but the problem is shifting into South Asia, according to the researchers.

Perhaps surprisingly, the researchers do not conclude that global public-health efforts need to be focused on curbing obesity. Rather, they write, “Our results show the need to address the remaining underweight problem and by doing so reduce risks to pregnant women and their newborn infants, mortality from tuberculosis and other respiratory diseases, and possibly all-cause mortality.”

Obesity is a persistent problem that needs to be addressed as well, but its rise in Western countries arguably has “overshadowed,” as the researchers put it, the plight of the poorest people in the world, who have far too little to eat.