NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


April 22, 2005

It's no secret that Americans are overweight. But obesity is a growing problem worldwide, even in countries whose populations have in the past been enviably lean, as new research reports make clear.

  • In China, for example, about 18 million adults are obese and another 137 million are overweight, according to a study of 16,000 people published last week in the Lancet.
  • Another report, in the New England Journal of Medicine, noted that in developing countries, "as many as 60 percent of households with an underweight family member also have an overweight one."

In a recent report, the World Health Organization warned of "an escalating global epidemic of overweight and obesity -- 'globesity.' "

  • In 1995, there were an estimated 200 million obese adults worldwide and another 18 million under-5 children classified as overweight, the report said.
  • As of 2000, the number of obese adults has increased to over 300 million.

The W.H.O. finds itself struggling to develop a global strategy to counter obesity, even as it tries to combat the hunger and undernutrition that remain a major concern in much of the world. In the next few years, the organization estimates, noncommunicable diseases that are related to diet, physical inactivity and consequent obesity, like heart disease, stroke, diabetes and hypertension, will become the principal causes of disease and death globally.

The organization's International Obesity Task Force, whose chairman is Dr. W. Philip T. James of London, maintains that different strategies will be needed in different countries, but that failing to develop effective national strategies will ultimately result in economically disastrous health crises.

The obesity issue is not limited to industrialized countries. In developing countries, it is estimated that over 115 million people suffer from obesity-related problems, the W.H.O. has noted.

Source: Jane E. Brody, "As America Gets Bigger, the World Does, Too," New York Times, April 19, 2005; and Donna Eberwine, "Globesity: The Crisis of GrowingProportions," Perspectives in Health Magazine, Volume 7, Number 3, 2002, Pan American Health Organization.

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