It's common knowledge that obesity is an issue in the United States, but an October 2015 report from the World Obesity Federation (WOF) suggests it's a huge problem everywhere. And it's about to get much worse.
If the current international trend continues, not only will 177 million adults (that's more than half the U.S. population) be severely obese — meaning they have a BMI of 35 or more — but by 2025, the WOF estimates that 2.7 billion adults worldwide will be overweight.
"The obesity epidemic has reached virtually every country worldwide," said Walmir Coutinho, PhD, president of the World Obesity Federation, in a press release. "…the time to act is now."
Obesity has been linked to many serious health problems, including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, osteoarthritis and kidney disease, not to mention a grim mortality rate: Severely obese people die about eight to 10 years earlier than their healthy-weight peers.
Soda and Sitting Affect Non-Americans, Too
Over the last three decades, obesity rates have more than doubled worldwide, thanks in large part to unhealthy eating and sedentary lifestyles. Guzzling sugary drinks has become an international habit — worldwide consumption of sugar-filled beverages has increased 33 percent over the past 10 years, according to the WOF report. Even worse, people around the globe aren't exercising enough: A July 2012 study found that 9 percent of all premature deaths that occurred worldwide in 2008 were caused by physical inactivity. In other words, 5.3 million people died earlier than they should have simply because they weren't active enough.
Countries Aren't Doing Enough to Prevent Global Obesity
In 2012, the World Health Organization launched a global action plan to prevent and control overweight and obesity rates, aiming to bring them down to 2010 levels by 2025. To do that, governments around the world are being encouraged to make nutritious food cheaper and less-nutritious food more expensive, promote healthy eating in schools and urge workplaces to encourage smart food choices and physical activity. They are also urged to make weight treatment and management services available to help people actively fight obesity and overweight.
Some nations are making good on these suggestions. Finland, Hungary, France and Norway have introduced "fat taxes," which add extra fees onto soda and foods high in fat, sugar and salt. Then there's Mexico, which appears to be a leader in the fight against obesity: Not only does it tax soda and junk food, but it also clearly labels foods as healthy or unhealthy on the packaging. Plus, the country has put a halt to sugar and junk food marketing that preys on kids, and makes a point of serving more nutritious foods in schools.
Unfortunately, Mexico seems to be the exception, not the rule. "Governments have accepted the need for regulatory measures… but few governments are implementing these measures," says Tim Lobstein, PhD, director of policy at the World Obesity Federation.
Here's hoping that changes sooner than later.