More than a billion people in the world are obese: the countries with the highest rates, where Italy ranks

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More than a billion people in the world are obese: the countries with the highest rates, where Italy ranks

Data in The Lancet presented for World Obesity Day on March 4: over the last three decades, the prevalence of obesity has quadrupled among children and doubled among adults. Italy is in 144th place for obesity rate among women and 119th place among men, despite recording an increase in the obesity rate of 3% and 7.3% respectively. The situation is worsening in the United States and in several central European countries.

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There are more than a billion people in the world who live with obesity, according to data published in the scientific journal The Lancet in view of World Obesity Day which occurs on March 4. Over the past three decades, obesity rates have quadrupled in children and doubled among adults , with combined prevalence increasing in most countries. “ This transition to obesity was already evident in adults in 1990 and is followed in school-age children and adolescents, ” indicates the analysis, which records the highest obesity rates in Tonga and American Samoa for women and in American Samoa and Nauru for men , with approximately 70-80% obese adults.

Out of 200 countries examined, Italy ranks 144th for obesity rate among women and 199th among men, while the situation worsens in the United States and in several Central European countries, but also in Sub-Saharan Africa , particularly among women. We speak of obesity when the body mass index (BMI) is greater than 30 kg/m2 , a condition characterized by excessive accumulation of body fat, associated with serious health consequences throughout life . Obesity in fact increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases (hypertension, coronary heart disease, tendency to heart attack) and conditions of altered metabolism, such as type 2 diabetes or hypercholesterolemia.

Obesity in Italy and in the world, the data that alarm doctors

According to global estimates, more than one billion people in the world are obese : in 2022, the latest year for which data is available, there are 880 million adults (aged 20 years and older) and 159 million children and children (aged 5-19 years) with obesity, with rates that have quadrupled among the youngest since 1990. In adults, the highest rates are recorded in Tonga and American Samoa for women, and in American Samoa and Nauru for men men, while the lowest in Japan, East Timor and Vietnam for women, and in Rwanda, East Timor and Ethiopia for men.

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Obesity rates in women in 2022. Credit: NDC Risk/The Lancet

Obesity rates in women in 2022. Credit: NDC Risk/The Lancet

Italy ranks 144th for obesity rate among women and 119th place among men out of 200 countries examined, despite recording an increase in prevalence of 3 percentage points in women (from 14.6% of 1990 to 17.6% in 2022) and by 7.3 percentage points in men (from 10.7% in 1990 to 18% in 2022). The situation worsens in the United States , in 10th place for men (from 16.9% in 1990 to 41.6% in 2022) and in 36th place for women (21.2% in 1990 to 43.8% of 2022).

Obesity rates in men as of 2022. Credit: NDC Risk/The Lancet

Obesity rates in men as of 2022. Credit: NDC Risk/The Lancet

The largest increases – highlights the analysis – occurred in some countries in sub-Saharan Africa for women , and in the United States, Brunei and some countries in Central Europe, Polynesia and Micronesia for men . Obesity rates increased by more than 20 percentage points in 49 countries (25%) for women and in 24 countries (12%) for men, and by as much as 33 percentage points in the Bahamas for women and 31.7 percentage points in Romania for men . They only decreased among women in Spain (by 4.6 percentage points) and in France (2.2 percentage points)” .

Globally, obesity rates worldwide have increased from 8.8% in 1990 to 18.5% in 2022 for women, and from 4.8% to 14% for men . Also in the same period of time, in the 5-19 age group, the obesity rate increased from 1.7% to 6.9% for girls and boys, and from 2.1% to 9.3% for children and boys.

The data also shows that the rate of underweight people has declined among both children and adults, meaning obesity is the most common form of malnutrition in many countries around the world. Specifically, the percentage of underweight children and adolescents worldwide has decreased by approximately one-fifth among girls and by more than one-third among boys, while the percentage of underweight adults worldwide has more than halved over the same period.

All over the world – conclude the authors of the analysis (around 1,500 researchers involved in the study of the NCD Risk Factor Collaboration with the World Health Organization – there is a need for social and agricultural policies and food programs that address the residual burden of underweight, at the same time curbing and reversing the increase in obesity, and improving access to healthy and nutritious foods”.

What is obesity and what are the risks of extra pounds

Obesity is a disease characterized by a pathological accumulation of body fat , associated with serious health consequences throughout life. In particular, we speak of obesity when the body mass index (BMI) – the parameter obtained by dividing a person's weight in kilograms by the square of their height in meters – is equal to or greater than 30 days/m2 . The ideal BMI for health varies based on age and gender but, in general, a value between 20 and 25 kg/m2 is considered optimal.

Obesity can cause various symptoms, such as fatigue even in small movements , breathing difficulties, excessive sweating, sleep apnea, tiredness, joint pain, but above all it causes many diseases , including cardiovascular problems (hypertension, heart attacks, strokes), diabetes type 2, high cholesterol, some types of cancer, depression, female infertility, erectile dysfunction and stress urinary incontinence.

The causes of obesity are generally linked to the excessive deposition of adipose tissue, which is created in the presence of an imbalance between calories consumed and energy consumption . Nutrition is therefore a determining factor in its onset, although several studies highlight how obesity is not a fault or a lack of willpower, but a disease. In fact, there are conditions that can lead to an incorrect diet , such as poor sleep quality (sleeping a few hours a night), the intake of certain drugs and psychotropic drugs, as well as some antiepileptics, or cortisone, which are often linked to an increase of weight . More rarely, obesity is due to genetic conditions, such as Prader-Willi syndrome, or endocrine diseases, such as Cushing's syndrome.

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