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Obesity 'tsunami' threatens world health

11th February 2011

The number of obese people around the world has nearly doubled in the past 30 years, amounting to what researchers around the world are calling a tsunami of obesity.

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The researchers found that, in 2008 alone, nearly one in 10 men were obese.

The rate of obesity was even higher for women, at one in seven.

In 1980, 4.8% of men and 7.9% of women were obese.

Unfortunately, the researchers were not able to compile any data showing how obesity rates have changed over the past three years.

However, they found that in every country studied except Italy, people's rates of obesity had increased.

In Europe the average weight of women in France and Switzerland has increased just slightly over the past thirty years, whereas women in Russia and Moldova have gained the most weight.

Women in Turkey have the highest BMI of all.

Men in Ireland and the Czech Republic have shown the most weight gain in the past 28 years.

Worldwide, among the people to gain the most weight on average in the past 30 years have been Pacific Islanders, where the average body mass index (BMI) is now just less than 35.

By contrast, people in Japan and Singapore had the lowest average BMI.

BMI is derived mathematically from a person's weight in kilos divided by their height in metres squared.

Hence the cusp between a 'normal' BMI and being overweight depends upon a person's height and weight ratio.

Knowing a person's BMI is an important tool for doctors, because a high BMI has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and arthritis.

And while obesity rates are now quite high worldwide compared to three decades ago, rich nations in Europe and America are leading the pack in terms of heart health.

Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg), and doctors consider 130-139 mmHg the cusp separating normal systolic blood pressure from hypertension.

Systolic blood pressure has declined in the past 30 years, in richer nations in Europe and America, but remains very elevated in the Baltic states and western Africa.

Finland, Portugal, and Norway also did not score well in terms of blood pressure, however, with the highest rates among developed countries.

The researchers said their findings highlighted a population emergency.

They said that elevated levels of worldwide obesity would cause tens of millions of people to die every year who otherwise would have lived.

The researchers also found that, of all the highest-grossing countries, the US had the most people who were overweight and obese, followed by New Zealand.

At the same time, people in the US were managing to reduce their blood pressure and to give up smoking, leading researchers to believe that lifestyle choices affecting hearth health may play as much of a role in the coming obesity tsunami as eating habits.

Overall, South Korea, Australia, Canada, and Cambodia also fared well in terms of heart health.

Cholesterol is also likely to play a role.

Greenland, Iceland and Germany had the highest cholesterol levels in the world, whereas African countries had the lowest.

Among developed countries, Greece had the lowest overall rates of cholesterol, followed by the US, Sweden, and Canada.



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