More than half of the world will be obese by 2035, study finds

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A new report by the World Obesity Federation (WOF) has said more than half of the world’s population will be obese or overweight by 2035 if significant action isn’t taken.

The federation’s 2023 atlas also predicted that childhood obesity levels could more than double over the next 12 years to around 208 million boys and 175 million girls.

Associate Professor in Nutrition at Kingston University Dr. Hilda Mulrooney explains her thoughts on the report’s findings and what measures should be taken to stop obesity levels from rising.

The estimated increase in obesity prevalence in adults and children worldwide is shocking, but not surprising.

In 2007, the UK Foresight report estimated that by 2050, 60% of adult males and 50% of adult females could be living with obesity if the action were not taken (Butland et al, 2007).

These latest findings by the World Obesity Federation are global. They highlight that no nation has seen a decline in obesity prevalence and that the increase in prevalence will be more severe in children than adults.

This is worrying since children living with excess weight who remain so as adults are exposed to the negative consequences of obesity for a longer proportion of their lifespan.

It is also of concern that the projected increases are higher in low-income countries, which do not have the resources to support people through health promotion, or obesity prevention, diagnosis or treatment.

In the report, WOF identifies the importance of a coordinated response, with high-level support, adequately resourced for equitable prevention as well as treatment.

Robust response to the marketing of high fat, salt and sugary foods and drinks, and the use of tools such as taxing unhealthy foods and drinks are needed.

In the U.K., the tax on sugar-sweetened drinks resulted in significantly more sugar being removed from the drinks by manufacturers than voluntary action to reduce the sugar content of foods did.

It cannot be right that global food and drink manufacturers can promote unhealthy foods and drinks in low-income countries with impunity—food chains are global so mandatory action to improve foods and drinks should be too.

Obesity is not just a multifactorial, complex relapsing disease with strong genetic components, it is also a marker of inequality.

The pandemic showed clearly that overweight and obesity impacted on acute as well as chronic health—those with obesity were identified early on as a key risk group for severe COVID-19 outcomes.

Actions taken during the pandemic to protect people from infection frequently resulted in weight gain due to changes to what and how much was eaten, as well as activity levels.

The team suggests that people have to think for the long-term and they have to think about prevention.

We need to start at the beginning with the active promotion of breastfeeding, but we also need to equip children with practical life skills like cooking, shopping, and healthy eating on a budget.

These should be a fundamental part of the education system throughout the school years. They are skills so they have to be practiced; we don’t learn to drive by watching people drive.

We will not embed these coping life skills in our children unless we allow them into kitchens to develop them, as part of their education, so that children who are not learning to cook at home, learn to cook at school.

At the same time, physical movement and activity should be built into the school day, and the food environment should be better protected—by restricting marketing and promotions of high-fat, salt and sugar foods and drinks.

We also need to better support those already living with overweight and obesity, addressing weight-related stigma and ensuring that care is appropriate, tailored and equitable.

If you care about weight loss, please read studies about why exercise is less helpful in losing weight than simply eating less, and early time-restricted eating could help lose weight and improve blood pressure.

For more information about weight loss, please see recent studies that  hop extract could reduce belly fat in overweight people, and weight loss drugs may help stop COVID-19.

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