The World Obesity Atlas predicts over half of the global population will be overweight or obese by 2035...
What are the implications of this? What can we do about it?
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I fully admit that I’m hesitant to even write about this because I don’t necessarily believe that being classified as overweight or obese is helpful, not to mention that I think these BMI classifications can be problematic and inaccurate anyway. I also don’t want to take part in any kind of body composition shaming.
With that being said, I do acknowledge that there are some health issues that *can* become more prevalent when we carry extra weight, like diabetes, hypertension, arthritis, sleep apnea, and cardiovascular diseases, among others, as seen in this study, this study, and this study.
So, when I saw the predictions of the recently-released World Obesity Atlas and their ramifications, I found them to be rather alarming, or at least worth being aware of. Regardless of the “accuracy” or helpfulness of BMI classifications, the predictions point to the worldwide population becoming heavier over time.
What’d they actually say?
On March 2nd, the World Obesity Atlas put out a press release stating:
The majority of the global population (51%, or over 4 billion people) will be living with either overweight or obesity by 2035 if current trends prevail. 1 in 4 people (nearly 2 billion) will have obesity.
Childhood obesity could more than double by 2035 (from 2020 levels). Rates are predicted to double among boys to 208 million (100% increase) and more than double among girls to 175 million (125% increase) and are rising more rapidly among children than adults
HALF of the global population and double the number of children could potentially face these kinds of health issues, mobility challenges, or discrimination.
To add to that, economically and culturally speaking, here’s what they say about the implications of this:
The World Obesity Atlas 2023, published by World Obesity Federation, predicts that the global economic impact of overweight and obesity will reach $4.32 trillion annually by 2035 if prevention and treatment measures do not improve. At almost 3% of global GDP, this is comparable with the impact of COVID-19 in 2020.
Lower income countries are facing rapid increases in obesity prevalence. Of the 10 countries with the greatest expected increases in obesity globally (for both adults and children), 9 of those are from low or lower-middle income countries. All are from either Asia or Africa.
Do I think that economic concerns outweigh the concerns of individuals? No. But, it’s pretty crazy to think that this could impact the economy on a similar level to how COVID did, and that some countries are simply NOT equipped to support individuals if things do continue to trend in the direction that they are.
It’s also worth noting that the press release also says, “Acknowledgement of the economic impact is in no way a reflection of blame on people living with obesity, which is a chronic, relapsing disease.” There’s not blame being placed on individuals here, but the point is that if countries/governments don’t start to make changes in food availability, how people with overweight and obesity are supported, etc., then the trickle down effect can be significant.
If you’re a visual learner, here are the stats and trend lines for the US specifically:
Though the US may be more equipped to deal with the economic implications compared to other countries, it’s significant that 58% of the country may be classified as overweight or obese, which is higher than the global rate prediction.
So, I imagine the conversation now becomes what do we do about it? What are the potential solutions or courses of action that can be taken at this time?
This gets tricky.
First of all, as I’ve stated before, BMI and the classifications of overweight and obese may not be accurate in predictions of health-related changes over time. BMI is definitely not a perfect classification system as it doesn’t take into account muscle mass, ethnicity, or health history. So while it may allow us to see changes in the populations weight over time, it may not be a significant predictor of health or illness.
Next, when we talk about potentials for systemic changes, because that will likely be an avenue in order to make large-scale changes, this probably involves government action. Historically speaking, are government sponsored food recommendations perfect or even helpful? Not really. The various versions of the Food Pyramid or My Plate aren’t awesome. Not to mention the impact that lobbies and private interest groups have had on their creation. However, some of the recommendations haven’t been horrible either… but most people don’t meet them anyway. I will say, however, that the most recent Dietary Guidelines For Americans 2020-2025 are the most helpful government recommendations I’ve seen. So, maybe things are heading in the right direction here?
On top of that, I’m also not sure how we compete with the craziness that is social media and some of the bogus recommendations around nutrition and fitness that exist there.
Recommendations can only make so much impact though. At the end of the day, actual humans are still making decisions about what to eat or when/how much to move.
Generally speaking, could humans benefit from moving more? Yes.
Generally speaking, could humans benefit from eating fewer highly-palatable, calorically-dense foods and eating more whole, real foods? Also yes.
Are there REAL barriers and challenges that exist for people around fitness and finding healthy foods? Yes again!
Also, despite all the knowledge that people may have about what’s healthy, or all the recommendations about what to eat, at the end of the day Doritos are still a very-easily-accessible food product that someone could get in whatever quantity they want at pretty much any time. And, why would Doritos stop making their chips thus making them less available because of health concerns? They’re making money and that’s capitalism; the demand is there, they answer with the supply, regardless of people’s weight or any greater economic results. (PS—I’m not trying to hate on or call out Doritos specifically, it was just the first food that came to mind…)
Overall, I’m actually not sure exactly how this information gets conveyed to the masses or how changes are made from the top down in a beneficial manner. These changes might have to happen on an individual level.
To that point, if you already have an exercise/movement routine and get your fruits/veggies, protein, and water then you’re already ahead of the game and keep doing that at all costs! If you don’t have these things under your belt yet, do what you can now to adopt these habits as best as possible ASAP. Even if these predictions don’t come true, I imagine you’d be preventing yourself from spending (financially, mentally, emotionally, physically) on health-related concerns in the future. At least in the way these things can be prevented by personal action.
What do you think about these predictions and potential courses of action to support humanity? I’d love to know… share in the comments or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!
As always, thank you for reading,
PS— As I am preparing for Baby Girl to enter the world in the next few weeks, I have some pre-scheduled blog posts and some guest blog posts coming up for you! Stay tuned!