Global malnourishment: 1 in 8 people are obese

National, News, World

New data from The Lancet shows fewer people are starving across the globe. But it also shows an explosive growth of another type of malnourishment: obesity.

The global rate of obesity has quadrupled in children and doubled in adults since 1990, according to a new analysis published in The Lancet, a medical journal, March 1, 2024.

About one billion people in the world — that’s 1 in 8 of the global population — are obese: They have a body mass index (BMI) over 30.

The World Health Organization describes the BMI as “a simple index of weight-for-height that is commonly used to classify overweight and obesity in adults.”

It is calculated by dividing a person’s weight in kilograms by the square of their height in meters (kg/m2).

Francesco Branca, Director of the WHO’s Department of Nutrition and Food Safety, said the organization had previously estimated that the global rate of obesity would hit a billion people in 2030. But that marker was hit eight years early — in 2022.

Number of people starving is falling

The new data shows some progress in reducing the number of people who are starving across the globe.

Over the past 30 years, the global proportion of underweight adults has halved. It fell by a fifth in girls and a third in boys under the age of 18 years.

However, the study shows that in some countries the situation has not improved.

The proportion of underweight adults in countries like Ethiopia and Uganda, for example, has barely changed.

Other countries, such as India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, have seen the proportion of underweight adults decline sharply. But Pakistan appears to have traded one form of malnourishment for another.

While the proportion of underweight adults has dropped from 27% to 7% since 1990, the proportion of obese adults has risen from 3% to 24% in the same period. That’s a higher rate of obesity than most countries in the European Union.

Some sub-Saharan African countries have seen the same sort of swap, particularly among women. Where the number of people underweight has gone down, the number of those with obesity has gone up.

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