Obesity exploding at home and away

3 minute read

More than half the global population will be overweight or obese come 2035, and covid didn't help.

Overweight and obesity will rip almost $6 trillion a year out of the world economy by 2035 and affect more than four billion people unless prevention and treatment strategies improve around the world.

The release of the World Obesity Atlas 2023 by the World Obesity Federation has come with a sledgehammer blow of statistics, and Australia does not come away unscathed.

The laundry list of bad news includes:

  • The global economic impact of overweight and obesity will reach $4.32 trillion annually by 2035; at almost 3% of global GDP, this is comparable with the impact of covid-19 in 2020
  • The majority of the global population (51%, or over four billion people) will be either overweight or obese by 2035 if current trends prevail; nearly two billion will be obese
  • Childhood obesity could more than double from 2020 levels by 2035, with numbers to reach 208 million boys (100% increase) and 175 million girls (125% increase)
  • Lower-income countries are facing rapid increases in obesity prevalence; nine of the top 10 countries with the greatest expected increases in obesity globally are from low or lower-middle income countries, all from either Asia or Africa

Australia’s tale of woe has one bright spot: a “global preparedness” ranking of 24th out of 183 countries. The ranking, first reported in the 2022 Atlas, takes account of countries’ current health system responses to non-communicable diseases and their commitment to the implementation of obesity prevention policies. “This ranking gives an indication of how well, or poorly, countries are prepared to address the rise in obesity and to deal with the consequences,” wrote the authors.

From there, the news for Australians is all bad.

Forty-seven percent of Australian adults will be obese by 2035, an annual increase of 2.2% between 2020 and 2035. Childhood obesity will increase at 2.6% per year. The impact on the national GDP of overweight will come in at 2.5%.

The University of Sydney’s Professor Louise Baur, president of the World Obesity Federation, said the 2023 Atlas was a “a clear warning”.

“By failing to address obesity today, we risk serious repercussions in the future,” she said. “It is particularly worrying to see obesity rates rising fastest among children and adolescents.

“Governments and policymakers around the world need to do all they can to avoid passing health, social, and economic costs on to the younger generation. That means looking urgently at the systems and root factors that contribute to obesity, and actively involving young people in the solutions.

“If we act together now, we have the opportunity to help billions of people in the future.”

The authors of the report wrote that the covid pandemic had a significant on obesity and overweight trends.

“The period from 2020 to 2022 was marked by extensive restrictions or ‘lockdowns’ in many countries that appear to have increased risk of weight gain by curtailing movements outside the home, exacerbating dietary and sedentary behaviours linked to weight gain, and significantly reducing access to care,” they wrote.

“In addition, many national surveys and measurement programs which monitor weight and weight gain were halted.

“A rise in obesity prevalence, which appears to have occurred especially among children, may prove hard to reverse, and suggests that a side-effect of managing the covid-19 pandemic is a worsening of the obesity epidemic.”

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