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Study: Global obesity six times higher now than in 1975

More than one in ten men and one in seven women on Earth are obese, researchers found in the study.

By Stephen Feller
Researchers at Imperial College London found obesity around the world has exploded in the last 40 years, and predict it to worsen in the next decade. In a new study, they suggest governments take action to make healthy food more affordable and unhealthy food more expensive, because they say encouraging a little more exercise won't be enough to stop the global epidemic. Photo by Tiago Zr/Shutterstock
Researchers at Imperial College London found obesity around the world has exploded in the last 40 years, and predict it to worsen in the next decade. In a new study, they suggest governments take action to make healthy food more affordable and unhealthy food more expensive, because they say encouraging a little more exercise won't be enough to stop the global epidemic. Photo by Tiago Zr/Shutterstock

LONDON, April 1 (UPI) -- More people on Earth are obese than are underweight, with one in five predicted to be overweight by the year 2025, researchers in England found in a recent study.

Researchers at Imperial College London found more than one in ten men and one in seven woman are obese in a large study of health data from most countries around the world.

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In the last 40 years, the number of obese men has tripled and obese women has doubled, the researchers found, while the number of underweight people has dropped. On the current trajectory, they predict the percentage of obese men and women on Earth to increase significantly by 2025.

Professor Majid Ezzati, a researcher at the School of Public Health at Imperial College London, said the epidemic is beyond encouraging people to exercise more or seek medical treatment. Governments may need to enact policies making healthier food cheaper, making foods that do not increase the risk for obesity more available to more people.

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"Our research has shown that over 40 years we have transitioned from a world in which underweight prevalence was more than double that of obesity, to one in which more people are obese than underweight," Ezzati said in a press release. "Although it is reassuring that the number of underweight individuals has decreased over the last four decades, global obesity has reached crisis point."

For the study, published in The Lancet, the researchers analyzed data from 1,698 population-based studies conducted between 1975 and 2014 with more than 19.2 million people -- 9.9 million men and 9.3 million women -- in 186 countries around the world.

Since 1975, obesity has tripled globally among men, from 3.2 percent to 10.8 percent, and doubled among women, from 6.4 percent to 14.9 percent. The researchers estimate the global population has gained more than 3.3 pounds per year since 1975. Additionally, 2.3 percent of men and 5 percent of women were classified as severely obese, and 0.64 percent of men and 1.6 percent of women are morbidly obese.

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Globally, the number of underweight men decreased from 13.8 percent to 8.8 percent, as did the number of underweight women, from 14.6 percent to 9.7 percent.

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China and the United States have more obese men and women than any other country, with the U.S. being home to most severely obese men and women on Earth, the researchers reported. South Asia has the highest number of underweight men and women, where nearly a quarter of both are underweight.

If the trends continue, the researchers predict 18 percent of men and 21 percent of women will be obese by 2025, with 6 percent of men and 9 percent of women likely qualifying as severely obese.

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"The number of people across the globe whose weight poses a serious threat to their health is greater than ever before," Ezzati said. "And 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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