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According to a new study, one-third of the world is overweight, and the U.S. is leading the way.

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The obesity epidemic has long been an issue. Since 1980, childhood obesity rates have tripled in the U.S., with nearly 9% of 2- to 5-year-olds now obese. Obesity rates among teens has quadrupled from 5% to 20.5%, and as of 2014, obesity rates among adults over 19 was 39%.

And while the obesity rates rise, so do chronic illnesses, with more than half of all Americans affected. Research continues to unveil the connection, and yet physicians aren’t doing enough to make an apparent change.

The resulting financial toll is staggering, with obesity alone costing the U.S. medical system $190 billion annually. The irony here is that, while many children are raised on fast foods because they are considered cheap, it is the whole, organic foods, often more expensive, that prove much cheaper down the road.

And it’s not just an American problem. According to the The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the global obesity rate among adults is now 1 in 10, or 10%. As of 2015, excess weight resulted in 4 million deaths worldwide, with 39% of the people having died from cardiovascular disease not even obese, but simply overweight. This revelation provoked a public service announcement highlighting that health problems can occur from carrying even a small amount of excess weight. 

The new study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, looked at more than 1,000 published studies and data from more than 170 countries. The team reviewed data from 68.5 million people between 1980 and 2015 to pinpoint trends and figures associated with overweight and obesity rates. Data were collected from the most recent Global Burden of Disease study, where all major diseases, conditions, and injuries are analyzed against age, sex, and population on a global scale.

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The data found that the number of people affected by obesity has doubled since 1980 in 73 countries, and has continued to increase in most other countries included in the analysis.

The large populations of China and India accounted for the two countries having the highest numbers of obese children, with 15.3 million and 14.4 million, respectively. Perhaps most alarming, the United States, despite having a smaller population, had the greatest number of obese adults, with 79.4 million (35% of the population), followed by China with 57.3 million.

Bangladesh and Vietnam had the lowest obesity rates, at 1%.

“This re-emphasizes what we already know about the obesity epidemic,” said Goodarz Danaei, assistant professor of global health at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “But it raises the alarm that we may be facing a wave of obesity in the coming years across high and low income countries.”
With the study revealing that 12% of adults and 5% of all children, globally, are obese, it should not only spark physicians to take immediate action, but individuals as well.
“People who shrug off weight gain do so at their own risk — risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and other life-threatening conditions,” said Dr. Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, who worked on the study. “Those half-serious New Year’s resolutions to lose weight should become year-round commitments to lose weight and prevent future weight gain.”

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