The U.S. Is Still No. 1 in the World – Just Not in a Category We Should Celebrate

The U.S. Is Still No. 1 in the World – Just Not in a Category We Should Celebrate

The news: USA is still #1 — when it comes to obesity.

Researchers at the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation have conducted the most comprehensive assessment of obesity around the world. The study, newly published in the Lancet, analyzed public health data from 188 nations from 1980 to 2013 — and has revealed some troubling findings.

For instance, researchers now believe that 2.1 billion people — nearly 30% of the global population — are now either obese or overweight. That's a more than 145% increase from 857 million people back in 1980. And since that year, not a single country has lowered its obesity rate. "Worldwide, the proportion of adults with a body-mass index (BMI) of 25 or greater increased between 1980 and 2013 from 28.8% to 36.9% in men, and from 29.8% to 38% in women," the researchers found.

Here are the world's most obese countries, which, combined together, are home to 671 million obese people:

1. United States 
2. China
3. India
4. Russia
5. Brazil
6. Mexico
7. Egypt
8. Germany
9. Pakistan
10. Indonesia

Things are especially bad in America. While obesity is certainly a global epidemic, it's a staggering problem in the U.S. Though Americans only compose five percent of the global population, they make up 13% of the world's obese and overweight population.

According to the study, there are 160 million overweight adults in the United States — 78 million are obese. Even China, which has four times more people, can't beat that number. Nearly 75% of American men and 60% of American women are obese or overweight, as are 30% of American children and teens. In comparison, only four percent of kids in the Netherlands or Sweden are overweight.

And things are only expected to get worse. According to a CDC forecast, over a third of American adults can be classified as obese — by 2030, that number will be 42%. The states with the highest obesity rates were Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas and West Virginia. Obesity rates have been steadily increasing for decades, and they will continue to do so.


Image Credit: CDC

"Being overweight or even obese is a growing, unchecked problem in the U.S. today," said Dr. Ali Mokdad, one of the study's researchers. "We are looking at a major public health epidemic that must be stopped."

Why this is important: As Mokdad points out, "We have to remind ourselves that obesity is really not a cosmetic issue. It's a main risk factor for morbidity and mortality." According to the U.N. World Health Organization, chronic weight complications kill 3.4 million adults around the world every year, with many deaths linked to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, arthritis and cancer.

But perhaps the most alarming figure from this study is the child obesity rate. While the adult obese or overweight population increased by 28% during the study period, children experienced a 47% increase. If child obesity does not decrease, these troubling figures are only going to keep growing from here on out.

How much do you trust the information in this article?

Eileen Shim

Eileen is a writer living in New York. She studied comparative literature and international studies at Yale University, and enjoys writing about the intersection of culture and politics.

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