Being overweight – even without being obese – is killing millions of people around the world, according to the most extensive and authoritative study of the global impact ever carried out.
More than two billion adults and children are suffering from health problems in the world because of their weight, says a team of 2,300 experts led by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IMHE), based at the University of Washington in Seattle.
In 2015, nearly four million people died from disease related to their weight, most commonly from heart disease. But only 60% were technically obese, which is defined as a body mass index over 30. The other 40%, or 1.6 million people, were overweight but not obese.
The authors of the paper, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, describe “a growing and disturbing global public health crisis”.
The study has figures for 195 countries, using data from 1980 to 2015. In the UK, nearly a quarter of the adult population – 24.2% or 12 million people – is considered obese. One million British children are obese – amounting to 7.5% of all children in the UK.
The numbers for those who are overweight are much higher. Public Health England says that nearly two-thirds of the adult population – 63% – were overweight or obese in 2015. A fifth of children starting primary school aged four to five, and a third leaving it at age 10-11, are overweight or obese.
The study’s experts say too many people assume that they will be fine unless they actually tip into obesity. That’s not so, says professor Azeem Majeed from Imperial College London, one of the study’s authors.
The risk of death and diseases increases as your weight increases,” he said. “People who are overweight are at high risk of mortality and other diseases [beyond obesity itself].”