Obesity rates likely to double by 2030 with highest rises in lower-income countries

More than a billion people around the world will be obese by 2030 – double the number there was in 2010, according to new global estimates.

No country is on track to meet the World Health Organization’s (WHO) target to halt obesity by 2025, with one in five women and one in seven men predicted to have the condition by 2030.

Obesity has been rising fastest in low- and middle-income countries. Over the next eight years, the number of people with obesity is predicted to triple in low-income countries, compared with 2010.

The new figures come from the fourth World Obesity Atlas, published on Friday, and produced by the World Obesity Federation. Its chief executive, Johanna Ralston, said political and health leaders needed to recognise the gravity of the situation and act.

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“The numbers in our report are shocking, but what is even more shocking is how inadequate our response has been. Everyone has a basic right to prevention, treatment and management access which works for them. Now is the time for joined-up, decisive and people-centred action to turn the tide on obesity,” she said.

The highest rates of obesity are found in North America, Latin America and the Caribbean. Almost half of people (47%) in the US are likely to be obese by 2030.

However, while obesity rates in the region are predicted to increase by 50% between 2010 and 2030, numbers in Africa are expected to triple, with more women affected than men.

Obesity – when a person’s body mass index (BMI) is more than 30 – was found to be a major contributor to Covid-19 deaths.

An estimated 74 million women in Africa will be living with obesity in 2030, compared with 26 million in 2010, and 27 million men in 2030, up from 8 million in 2010.

In South Africa, half of women are predicted to be obese by 2030, according to the report, and in Algeria almost a third of men (30%).

south africa

Almost a quarter (22%) of preventable deaths from non-communicable diseases in Africa are attributed to being overweight.

The region is still dealing with high rates of malnutrition. Last month, the World Food Programme warned an estimated 13 million people are waking up severely hungry every day in the Horn of Africa, as the region grapples with a major drought.

Dr Adelheid Onyango, at the WHO’s regional office for Africa, said while the biggest problem across the continent is undernutrition, “we cannot close our eyes to [obesity] any more. It is already recognised as a public health problem”.

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“Our obesity rates have been low in the past, so the incremental growth will be dramatic because of that.

“We are seeing a shift in the consumption of unhealthy diets,” she added. Policies and regulatory systems around processed, high fat and sugary foods are weak in many countries across the continent and drivers for obesity have a fertile ground compared to more developed regions, where there is more regulation and public awareness, she said.

The World Obesity Atlas also ranks countries in terms of their preparedness for obesity, including their health systems. The most prepared are high-income countries, while the least prepared are all lower middle- and low-income countries, adding to concerns about the impact of obesity on already vulnerable populations.

More than 150 health experts and advocates have written to health ministers calling for an international action plan to tackle obesity.

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