Pleasantly plump, big-boned, rotund, meatier,
beefed-up, and portly -- whatever your favorite term, the people of the world
have grown much larger over the past thirty years, and not vertically. In
a massive trio of studies [abstract
3] in medicine's top peer-reviewed journal Lancet, the results are astounding -- obesity rates have doubled in less
than 30 years.
It is the marvel of modern medicine -- even as the waists
of world's citizens swell, cholesterol and heart disease rates are dropping
thanks to daily-ingested pills.
Meanwhile, obesity rates have soared from 5
percent of men and 8 percent of women worldwide in 1980 to 10 percent for
men and 14 percent for women by the study's end in 2008. That means that
as of two years ago a whopping 343 million men and 458 million women worldwide
were of an unhealthy weight. Another 1.5 billion adults -- roughly a
quarter of the world's population, were overweight.
The figure used to measure obesity was the
body-mass-index. While BMI -- a height to weight ratio -- can be
misleading in highly muscular individuals, in most cases it is one of the most
accurate and quickest ways of assessing the amount of fat a person carries.
The study [press
release], conducted by researchers from Harvard University, the Imperial College of London, and
other top global universities, was the most comprehensive analysis of BMI,
cholesterol, and blood pressure in the worldwide population, to date.
According to the report, Americans are by far the
fattest of any developed nation. Japanese, on the other hand, are the
skinniest developed nation. (The most obese non-developed nation is American
Samoa.) But while the west is leading the way in the rise in obesity,
obesity rates in Asia are also creeping up.
Majid Ezzati, a professor of public health at
Imperial College London and one of the study's authors, comments in a CBS News interview,
"Being obese is no longer just a Western problem."
As the fattest continue to get fatter, the experts
warn of a coming "global tsunami of cardiovascular disease."
Medicine, they say, can only do so much to stave off nature. Sonia Anand [profile]
and Salim Yusuf [profile] of McMaster University in Hamilton,
Ontario authored an accompanying review [abstract]
in Lancet, in which they state, "[The forecast
for global heart disease is] dismal and comprises a population emergency
that will cost tens of millions of preventable deaths [unless action is
Besides cardiovascular disease, obesity carries a
host of other problems including an increased risk of a host of cancers,
diabetes, digestive problems, and sexual impotence. In other words, it's
pretty much the mother of all diseases.
Besides the U.S., other regions growing fast in
the waist are Latin America, the Middle East, and Western and Southern
Africa. Only regions like central Africa and South Asia bucked the
Researchers say there are a number of options on
the cardiovascular disease front -- including mandating lower salt in
manufactured foods and banning
transfats. Likewise new medications may be able to continue to
counter the effects of the world's higher fat content.
But the underlying problem is that people
increasingly eating too much, and modern medicine has little answer to that
issue. When confronted with their unhealthy behaviors, many defiantly
defend their right to overeat.
And the outlook for the other obesity
diseases like cancer and diabetes is more dismal. States Professor
Ezzati [profile], "We don't know how much worse the obesity problem
will get. While we can manage blood pressure and cholesterol with medication,
diabetes will be a lot harder."
The three studies' lead authors were Farshad
Mariel M. Finucane [profile],
and Goodarz Danaei [profile]
-- all of which are researchers at Harvard University in various departments.