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Half the global population will be living with overweight and obesity by 2035

The World Obesity Atlas 2023, published by World Obesity Federation, has estimated that more than half the global population will be living with overweight and obesity within 12 years if prevention, treatment and support do not improve. The global study also 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.

According to the report, 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 (Table 1). Compiled by the World Obesity Federation, the World Obesity Atlas 2023 presents a series of obesity prevalence projections for the period 2020 to 2035. Worryingly, over half of the global population is expected to have a high body mass index (BMI ≥25kg/m²) by the end of this period, and 1 in 4 people will be living with obesity (BMI ≥30kg/m²) compared to 1 in 7 today.

In addition, 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. 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.

Table 1: Global overweight and obesity 2020–2035 Numbers of people (aged over 5 years) and percentage of the population with overweight or obesity

In addition, the report provides eye-opening new insights into the economic impacts of overweight and obesity, which are predicted to reduce the global economy by over US$4 trillion a year by 2035 (Table 2). At nearly 3% of global GDP, this is on a par with the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Every single region will see an increase in economic impact by 2035, with the Americas (North, Central and South America) shouldering the highest costs as a proportion of GDP (3.7%) and the Western Pacific region the highest total costs (US$1.56 trillion).

Table 2: Global economic impact of high BMI (BMI ≥25kg/m²) 2020–2035

The report emphasises the importance of developing comprehensive national action plans to prevent and treat obesity and support people affected by the disease. It also acknowledges the impact of climate change, COVID-19 restrictions, new pandemics, and chemical pollutants on overweight and obesity and warns that without ambitious and coordinated action to address systemic issues, obesity rates could rise still further.

“This year's Atlas is a clear warning that by failing to address obesity today, we risk serious repercussions in the future. It is particularly worrying to see obesity rates rising fastest among children and adolescents. Governments and policymakers around the world need to do all they can to avoid passing health, social, and economic costs on to the younger generation,” said Professor Louise Baur, President of the World Obesity Federation, said. “That means looking urgently at the systems and root factors that contribute to obesity, and actively involving young people in the solutions. If we act together now, we have the opportunity to help billions of people in the future.”

Obesity is often seen as an issue for high income countries, where rates are generally higher. However, the report reveals that obesity levels are rising fastest in low and lower-middle income countries, which are often the least able to respond to obesity and its consequences. The report includes Obesity-NCD Preparedness Rankings for 183 countries. First introduced in the 2022 Atlas, this ranking system takes account of countries’ current health system responses to NCDs and their commitment to the implementation of obesity prevention policies.

The report shows marked variations in preparedness across national income levels and geographical regions. For example, the average preparedness ranking for low income countries is just 154/183 compared to 29/183 for high income countries. All 10 of the most prepared countries are in Europe, while 8 of the 10 least prepared countries are in the African region. By 2035, the economic impact of overweight and obesity is estimated to be over $370 billion a year in low and lower-middle income countries alone.

"If we do not act now, we are on course to see significant increases in obesity prevalence over the next decade,” added Rachel Jackson-Leach, Director of Science at World Obesity Federation. “The greatest increases will be seen in low and lower-middle income countries, where scarce resources and lack of preparedness will create a perfect storm that will negatively impact people living with obesity the most."

The Atlas report discusses the importance of national action plans and Universal Health Coverage to help countries implement new WHO Recommendations for the Prevention and Management of Obesity that were adopted in 2022.

“Let's be clear: the economic impact of obesity is not the fault of individuals living with the disease. It is a result of high-level failures to provide the environmental, healthcare, food, and support systems that we all need to live happy, healthy lives,” commented Johanna Ralston, CEO of the World Obesity Federation. “Addressing these issues will be valuable in so many ways, to billions of people. We simply cannot afford to ignore the rising rates of obesity any longer. We hope that the findings of this latest Atlas will convince policymakers and civil society to take action and make tangible commitments to change in their regions.”

To access the World Obesity Atlas 2023 report, please click here

Table 2: Global economic impact of high BMI (BMI ≥25kg/m²) 2020–2035


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