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  • Obesity Goes Global

    When it comes to rates of obesity, the world isn't so small after all.

    A new study published in the May 29 Lancet reports the results of a worldwide study of obesity and overweight, and found that rates have increased between 1980 and 2013 by 27.5% for adults and 47.1% for children. Although rates vary by region, increases can be found almost everywhere in the world, authors write, and when it comes to the battle against obesity, "no national success stories have been reported in the past 33 years."

    During the 33-year timeframe reviewed, worldwide obesity rates rose from 28.8% to 36.9% in men, and from 29.8% to 38% in women. Children and adolescents also experienced "substantial" increases in obesity and overweight, with developing countries rising from 8.1% to 12.9% in boys, and from 8.4% to 13.4% in girls. Among developed countries, the child and adolescent rates rose from 16.9% to 23.8% of boys, and from 16.2% to 22.6% of girls. Authors defined overweight as BMI between 25 and 30 kg/m2 and obesity as BMI of 30 kg/m2 for adults, and used the International Obesity Task Force definition for children.

    The findings "show that increases in the prevalence of overweight and obesity have been substantial, widespread, and have arisen over a short time," authors write.

    The United States continues to lead the world in the sheer number of obese people in the world, accounting for 13% of the estimated 671 million obese individuals worldwide. China and India were, respectively, the next largest countries with the highest populations of obese individuals, but combined they only accounted for 15% of the world's obese people. Current estimates are that about one-third of all adults in the US are obese.

    Among other findings in the report:

    • In developed countries, more men than women were overweight and obese; in developing countries, the opposite is the case.
    • Obesity rates increased most rapidly between 1992 and 2002, and have slowed somewhat, particularly in developed countries.
    • Overweight and obesity rates peak at about 55 years for men and 60 years for women in both developed and developing countries, but rates are much higher in developed countries.
    • Prevalence of obesity was greater than 50% for men in Tonga, and for women in Kuwait, Kiribati, the Federated States of Micronesia, Libya, Qatar, Tonga, and Samoa.
    • The largest increases in the rates of obesity during the study period were in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Honduras, and Bahrain for women, and in New Zealand, Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the US for men.

    Authors did not offer an explanation for the rates of increase but pointed to other studies that cite increased calorie intake, changes to diet composition, decreased activity, and changes to the gut microbiome.

    The report says that without a significant increase in attention to the problem through both research and policy, the upward trend is likely to continue, despite a World Health Organization effort to stop the rise in obesity rates by 2025. "No countries have well documented downward trends in the past 3 decades," the authors write. "Our analysis suggests that this target is very ambitious and unlikely to be attained without concerted action and further research to assess the effect of population-wide interventions, and how to effectively translate that knowledge into a national obesity control program."

    APTA strongly supports the promotion of physical activity and the value of physical fitness to prevent obesity, and has representatives on the practice committee of Exercise is Medicine and the board of the National Physical Activity Plan Alliance. The association offers several resources on obesity, including continuing education on childhood obesity, and a prevention and wellness webpage that links to podcasts on the harmful effects of inactivity.

    Research-related stories featured in PT in Motion News are intended to highlight a topic of interest only and do not constitute an endorsement by APTA. For synthesized research and evidence-based practice information, visit the association's PTNow website.

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