Over 1 Billion People Projected to Live with Obesity by 2030, Warns New World Obesity Atlas 
Obesity is most common for both men and women in the WHO Americas region.

By 2030, 20% of women and 14% of men, or over 1 billion people, will be living with obesity globally, according to the new World Obesity Atlas 2022 published Friday.  

The new Atlas, launched on World Obesity Day, predicts that by that time, the number of people with obesity globally will have doubled since 2010.

The Atlas presents new projections on obesity and severe obesity among men and women as of 2030, as well as revisiting projections for children. Two years into the pandemic, obesity was also found to be closely  correlated with COVID-19 associated mortality, with death rates ten times higher in countries where over 50% of the population are overweight.

“This has shown clearly that an unhealthy population, without concerted action in anticipation of the next pandemic, will result in even more lives lost needlessly,” said World Obesity Federation President John Wilding and CEO Johanna Ralston, in the Atlas’s Foreword.

Katie Dain of the NCD Alliance called obesity a “slow-burn pandemic, one that has the health of a billion people sitting on a precipice. 

Missing WHO global targets 

Given current trends, chances of meeting the WHO global targets to halt the rise in obesity by 2025 also have likely passed, the report acknowledges.  

The WHO targets called for no increase in the prevalence of adult obesity between 2010 and 2025.

Authors of the Atlas – the World Obesity Federation – said that they are “hopeful”, nonetheless, in the fact that public and policymakers’ understanding about obesity has increased, and there has been more recent momentum to take action.

“As we reflect on the COVID-19 pandemic, it is essential that lessons are learnt…and that governments take the difficult but necessary steps – with obesity treatment and obesity prevention – to reduce the prevalence of obesity in this and future generations,” said both Wilding and Ralston, in the Foreword. 

Obesity in Africa to triple by 2030 

Mother and son in Usolanga, Tanzania. Childhood fat is traditionally seen as a sign of abundance, but too much of it can lead to obesity and related diseases later in life.

While the highest rates of obesity are still found in the WHO Americas region for both men and women, the numbers in Africa are expected to triple by 2030.

Countries in the Americas are projected to see a 1.5- fold increase in obesity between 2010 and 2030, while Africa is predicted to experience a rise from 34 million obese people in 2010 to 101 million in 2030, 75% of which would be women.  That, while the African continent continues to struggle with undernutrition, leading to the wasting and stunting of many children. 

Worldwide, obesity is higher among women than men and the gender gap will continue to rise in all regions by 2030.

Across all regions, obesity is expected to impact women more than men.

Trends are also very geographically defined. Currently, one-half of all women with obesity live in just 11 countries: United States, China, India, Brazil, Mexico, Russia, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Turkey and Pakistan. 

At the same time, one half of all men with obesity live in 9 countries: US, China, India, Brazil, Mexico, Russia, Egypt, Germany and Turkey.

Especially concerning are the countries that feature in both the top 20 rankings for prevalence and number of people living with obesity projections; namely US, Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

High BMI causes loss of 160 million years of healthy life

Years of life lost due to high BMI has huge financial implications.

Over 160 million lost years of healthy life were due to high body-mass index (BMI) in 2019 globally, accounting for more than 20% of all lost years of healthy life caused by preventable chronic ill-health, the atlas also finds. 

The greatest proportion of years lost, or disability adjusted life years (DALYs) and deaths that result from high BMI can be found in the Eastern Mediterranean region and in higher income countries. 

The Atlas warns that the years of healthy life lost due to high BMI and increasing obesity will hold back economic development and will lead to high levels of stress on the health services of many countries.

“A failure by governments to act to reduce the high prevalence of obesity in populations have high financial implications on health systems, as more people require support to manage and treat obesity and comorbidities,” authors say.  

They project that countries such as Mexico and the US will suffer a total economic impact of $160 billion by 2060. For India, that impact is $479 billion; for Brazil, $181 billion.  

Obesity-NCD Preparedness Ranking shows variability in preparedness across regions  

The report also introduces a new “Obesity-NCD Preparedness Ranking” which takes into account countries’ current health system responses to NCDs and wider commitment to the implementation of prevention policies, giving an indication for how well, or poorly, countries are prepared to address the rise in obesity. 

The findings highlight that many countries ranked lowest in preparedness to prevent and treat obesity are low- and middle-income countries, especially in Western Africa, as well as in WHO’s Western Pacific and Eastern Mediterranean (Middle East) regions. 

In contrast, the WHO European Region appears best-equipped to prevent and respond to obesity trends, with a population-weighted average preparedness score of 37 out of 183 – with Switzerland, ranking as Number 1 – as the most prepared.  

But even within the European region there was some variability – in countries such as Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, and Uzbekistan. 

“It is clear that the preparedness ranks are not distributed uniformly around the globe, but vary markedly across national income levels, and across geographical regions,” notes the Atlas. 

Overall, African region countries scored poorly in the global preparedness rankings, with only Algeria, Seychelles, and Mauritius scoring better than the global average of 87. 

Western Africa appears to be the least prepared – with conflict-ridden Central African Republic, Nigeria, and Niger, ranking 179, 180, and 183 respectively. 

Another conflict zone, Somalia and Pakistan in WHO’s Eastern Mediterranean region also rank poorly in preparedness, with scores of 181 and 172 respectively. 

For the Western Pacific region, Pacific Islands countries such as Papau New Guinea, Vanuatu, adn Kiribati, were among the lowest-scoring. They also have some of the highest obesity prevalence levels globally. 

‘Double burden’ of obesity and undernutrition  

A malnourished child is weighed at a clinic in Abu Shouk camp for Internally Displaced Persons, North Darfur.

With the majority of people with obesity living in LMICs, where obesity rates are rising fastest and health systems capacity is lowest, countries also are ill-equipped to tackle the double burden of both malnutrition and undernutrition, as well as obesity. 

Health service budgets in these countries also are unlikely to be able to cover advanced forms of obesity treatment, such as bariatric surgery.

This reinforces the need for a comprehensive approach to managing and treating obesity, says the Atlas.  

“Countries have a major challenge to halt the rise in obesity and reduce obesity across all age groups.” 

Global action plan should replace ‘disjointed global response’ 

Responding to the report, the NCD Alliance called upon the WHO to advance a new Global Action Plan on Obesity in time for review at the upcoming World Health Assembly, which takes place 22 – 28 May 2022 . 

The plan would bring together all existing actions, including the WHO’s recent draft recommendations on obesity, which were considered at January 2022 Executive Board meeting.  But an action plan would also expand the ambition and scope of WHO’s work to accelerate action on obesity in priority countries.

“A disjointed response, lack of ambition, and inaction is hurting the most vulnerable, and the impact couldn’t be more striking than it is today,” said Margot Neveux,  a Senior Policy Manager at World Obesity Federation. 

“We need more from our leaders; we need governance that puts the health and well-being of its people first.” 

Image Credits: Malingering/Flickr, Jen Wen Luoh, World Obesity Federation, Flickr – UN Photo, World Obesity Federation .

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