According to a new study out of the University of Washington, more people are dying from obesity than ever before — and they’re mostly children. The obesity crisis affects both rich and poor countries, with around 107 million children and 603 million adults worldwide. In counties such as Indonesia, China, and Brazil, the rate of obesity in children and younger adults has tripled. The researchers believe that obese children are more likely to grow into obese adults and suffer from weight-related illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, and a handful of cancers.
The study looked at 195 countries, and while there was incomplete data for some of the countries, the experts used their best estimates to fill in the gaps. It’s not perfect. But Edward Gregg, a diabetes expert for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who wrote a column to accompany the study, called it the “best picture that’s out there” when it comes to global obesity.
In the U.S., 17 percent of kids and 38 percent of adults are obese.
For the top 20 largest countries, the U.S. had the highest rates of obesity, while Bangladesh had the lowest. Egypt had the highest rates of adult obesity, while China had the the largest number of obese children (15 million total). The last time the CDC conducted research, in 2015, the U.S. was number one with 79 million obese adults, and China came in second with 57 million obese adults (although China has about four times as many people than the U.S.).
Researchers think that about 4 million deaths happen annually due to complications that arise from being overweight, which means more can be done to promote healthy eating and activity. Many illnesses associated with obesity can also be treated with increasingly more effective medicines, so with more research, more of those deaths can be prevented. It’s one thing when obesity begins later in life, but obesity in children can often be regulated with awareness programs, healthy activity in schools, well-balanced lunches, and helping poor families gain access to healthier foods on a more regular basis. Although that would require some more cash upfront, in the long run it saves money on health care later down the line.