More than 1 billion people live with obesity on the planet

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With more than 1 billion people living with obesity, the condition is already the most common nutritional deficiency in the world, warns the World Health Organization (WHO) in a global study published in the journal The Lancet. While underweight rates have been falling since the 1990s, excess body fat has doubled among adults, increasing fourfold in children and adolescents in three decades.

The study was conducted by the international network of scientists NCD-RisC, in collaboration with the WHO. Researchers evaluated weight and height measurements of more than 220 million people over the age of 5, representing 190 countries. With the data, they calculated the body mass index (BMI) and compared the 1990 scenario to the 2022 scenario.

In adults, obesity is classified as a BMI greater than or equal to 30kg/m2. Those who are underweight are those measuring less than 18.5kg/m2. Among children and adolescents, the rate is variable, as it depends on age and sex, considering the significant increase in height and weight at these stages.

Analysis of global data estimates that, among children and adolescents, the obesity rate in 2022 was four times higher than in 1990. Among adults, it more than doubled in women and almost tripled in men. In total, 159 million boys and girls, aged 5 to 19, and 879 million people over 20 years old, lived with obesity in the year surveyed.

Fall

Between 1990 and 2022, the proportion of the world’s children and adolescents affected by underweight fell by around a fifth for girls and more than a third for boys. In the same period, the proportion of adults with a BMI below 18.5kg/m2 fell by more than half.

In Pacific island nations, countries in the Middle East and North Africa, researchers have found high rates of underweight and obesity, considered the most unhealthy forms of malnutrition. The study highlights the need for policy changes aimed at combating both overweight and underweight, especially in the poorest parts of the world.

“It is very worrying that the obesity epidemic that was evident among adults in much of the world in 1990 is now reflected in school-age children and adolescents”, comments Majid Ezzati, researcher at Imperial College London, in England, and senior author of the study. “At the same time, hundreds of millions of people are still affected by malnutrition, especially in some of the poorest parts of the globe. To successfully combat both forms of malnutrition, it is vital to significantly improve the availability and affordability of healthy and nutritious.”

Prevention

“This new study highlights the importance of preventing and controlling obesity from early life to adulthood, through diet, physical activity and appropriate care as needed,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “Getting back on track to meet global obesity reduction targets will require the work of governments and communities, supported by evidence-based policies from the WHO and national public health agencies. Importantly, it requires cooperation from the private sector, which must be responsible for the health impacts of its products.”

According to Guha Pradeepa, co-author of the study and researcher at the Madras Diabetes Research Foundation, major global problems can worsen both forms of malnutrition. “The impact of issues such as climate change, disruption caused by the Covid pandemic and wars can have an impact by increasing poverty and the cost of nutrient-rich food. The repercussions of this are insufficient nutrition in some countries and families and the shift to less healthy foods in others. To create a healthier world, we need comprehensive policies to address these challenges.”

The countries with the highest prevalence of obesity in 2022 were the island nations of Tonga, American Samoa and Nauru. Niue and the Cook Islands, also in Oceania, recorded the highest cases of BMI above 30kg/m2 among children and adolescents. The study highlights that, in Polynesia and Micronesia, more than 60% of the population over 20 years of age is obese. On the other hand, Eritrea, Timor-Leste and Ethiopia lead the low weight ranking.

Analysis

João Lindolfo Borges, endocrinologist, university professor and researcher

Obesity has become a growing public health problem both in Brazil and around the world. Changes in eating patterns, with a more Westernized diet, combined with the reduction in physical activity, have contributed significantly to the increase in obesity in different regions of the planet. In Brazil, studies show an increasing prevalence in different age groups and socioeconomic conditions, with alarming numbers especially among children and adolescents.

The availability of ultra-processed foods, together with the reduction in physical activity, has been identified as one of the main factors responsible for the increase in obesity. Furthermore, a sedentary lifestyle and increased dietary fat intake are highlighted as key elements in the growth in the number of cases worldwide.

Childhood obesity is particularly worrying, being considered one of the biggest public health challenges, with its prevalence increasing significantly over the years. Studies indicate that the problem is associated with the early development of chronic diseases, highlighting the importance of addressing it from childhood.

It is important to recognize that obesity is not just an aesthetic issue, but a serious health condition. Furthermore, it can lead to psychosocial complications, such as low self-esteem and depression. Therefore, ignoring or minimizing the severity of obesity is a mistake that can have devastating consequences for the health of the population.

However, despite the growing prevalence of obesity in Brazil, awareness campaigns about this problem are scarce and often ineffective. There are several reasons for this gap. The first is the lack of political priority. Obesity often does not receive the same attention as other public health issues, such as infectious diseases or traffic accidents. As a result, there is a lack of resources and investments directed towards prevention and treatment campaigns.

The highly processed food industry often plays a significant role in perpetuating obesity by promoting unhealthy and high-calorie foods. These companies have the economic and political power to influence public policies and resist regulations that limit the marketing of unhealthy products.

Obesity is often seen as a result of a lack of discipline or willpower, which contributes to the stigma associated with this condition. This can lead to a reluctance to address the problem effectively, both on the part of those in government and the general population. Finally, many people do not fully understand the health risks associated with obesity, or do not have access to information about how to adopt healthy lifestyle habits.

It is crucial to implement public policies that promote healthy eating and physical activity environments, including regulating the advertising of unhealthy foods, encouraging the production and consumption of fresh and nutritious foods, and promoting safe and accessible public spaces for exercising. physical activity. Only with coordinated and comprehensive efforts will it be possible to reverse the obesity epidemic and guarantee a healthier future for all Brazilians.

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