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It’s Official—There Are More Obese People than Underweight People on Planet Earth

A new study, which looked at BMI data from 19.2 million participants, has some pretty bleak implications for global levels of obesity.
Photo via Flickr user Simon Doggett

If you put every living person on a scale, humanity would weigh in at a collective 632 billion pounds. While that number is so high that it may be difficult to comprehend, one thing is certain: humanity needs to hit the collective treadmill real soon.

According to an article published in UK health journal The Lancet, the number of obese people has climbed dramatically over the last four decades, and the implications are dire. Among the key findings of the study, which looked at BMI data collected from 19.2 million participants, is that the amount of obese people literally outweighs the number of underweight people globally.


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While obesity and malnutrition both represent significant health risks at opposite ends of the weight spectrum, this particular finding suggests that a radical shift has occurred in recent decades.

"Over the past 40 years, we have changed from a world in which underweight prevalence was more than double that of obesity, to one in which more people are obese than underweight," study author Professor Majid Ezzatis aid in a press release.

For Ezzatis and his team, the ramifications of this are very serious. "If present trends continue, not only will the world not meet the obesity target of halting the rise in the prevalence of obesity at its 2010 level by 2025, but more women will be severely obese than underweight by 2025."

The number of obese people more than quintupled between 1975 and 2014, ballooning from 105 million to 641 million. Broken down by gender, the team's results suggest that the number of obese men has more than tripled, while the proportion of obese women has more than doubled over the same period.

This research is considered to be the most comprehensive analysis of global trends in BMI to date and it gives fascinating insight into geographical differences in weight issues. For instance, in Central and East Africa, 12 percent of men and 15 percent of women are underweight, and a staggering one quarter of people in South Asia are underweight.

This is in stark contrast with the US, for instance, where roughly two thirds of adults are overweight or obese.

"To avoid an epidemic of severe obesity, new policies that can slow down and stop the worldwide increase in body weight must be implemented quickly and rigorously evaluated, including smart food policies and improved health-care training," Ezzatis concludes.

Hopefully, this warning doesn't fall on deaf ears. For health and obesity researchers like Ezzatis, the weight of the world is literally on their shoulders.