The world’s expanding waistline

Obesity is a growing problem. Image: Shutterstock

THE world is getting fatter. The latest study focusing on China has confirmed that obesity has rapidly increased in young rural Chinese people largely due to socioeconomic changes. 

This study comes shortly after it was revealed in The Lancet, in previous research, that about a fifth of all adults around the world and a third of those in the UK will be obese by 2025, with potentially disastrous consequences for their health. The health publication went on to say there is no chance at all that the world will be able to meet the target set out by the UN for the escalating obesity rate by 2025. 

The latest research in China found that 17 per cent of boys and nine per cent of girls under the age of 19 were obese in 2014, up from a diminutive one per cent for each in 1985. 

The study took a total of 29 years to complete and has beenpublished in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, involved nearly 28,000 students in Shandong Province.

“It is the worst explosion of childhood and adolescent obesity that I have ever seen,” Joep Perk from the European Society of Cardiology said. 

A transition relating to the changing socioeconomic climate in rural areas of China is to blame, which has seen an increase in fast food and a decrease in physical activity. 

The traditional Chinese diet had shifted towards a diet “with high fat, high energy density and low dietary fibre.”

Boys have been particularly at risk of becoming overweight with a rise of 0.7 per cent to 16.4 per cent for boys and from 1.5 per cent to nearly 14 per cent for girls. The study predicted that the reason for this could be cultural in the sense that Chinese families have a preference for boys and therefore they may be more likely to enjoy greater family resources. 

This has echoes of the other recent study conducted closer to home. The Lancet’s study showed that the English-speaking world is particularly badly affected as well. By 2025, the UK will have the highest obesity among both men and women in Europe, at 38 per cent, say the researchers. Almost a fifth of the world’s obese adults (118 million) live in just six high-income English-speaking countries which are Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, the UK and the US. 

Senior author Prof Majid Ezzati from Imperial College London, said: “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.” 

People with a BMI below 18.5 are considered underweight, while 35 or higher is considered severely obese and 40 or higher is morbidly obese. People with very high BMIs are considered to be at risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and other serious health problems.

The highest BMI rates in the world are found in the islands of Polynesia and Micronesia where more than 38 per cent of men and half of women are obese. Whereas the lowest rates in the world are found in Timor-Leste, Ethiopia, and Eritrea. 

The highest average BMI rate in the world is in the islands of Polynesia and Micronesia, where they reach 34.8 for women and 32.2 for men in American Samoa. More than 38 per cent of men and over half of women are obese in Polynesia and Micronesia.

Ezzati said much more needs to be done. “This epidemic of severe obesity is too extensive to be tackled with medications such as blood pressure-lowering drugs or diabetes treatments alone, or with a few extra bike lanes. We need coordinated global initiatives – such as looking at the price of healthy food compared to unhealthy food, or taxing high sugar and highly processed foods – to tackle this crisis.”

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