According to the WHO definition, this means having a “Body Mass Index” (BMI) of 25 or more (here you can find our BMI calculator). It is true that the BMI is not the right measure for everyone to measure obesity, since it only considers height and weight and therefore tends to be very high, for example, for athletes with a lot of muscle mass. But because the BMI is so easy to calculate, it is well suited for comparing larger groups.
According to Matthias Blüher, obesity researcher at the Helmholtz Institute for Metabolism, Obesity and Vascular Research in Leipzig, this increase is mainly due to our way of life: overeating and lack of exercise. We take in too many calories, often in liquid form from sugary drinks. Many have jobs that hardly encourage physical activity.
For example – as shown by WHO data from 2016 – the USA, where income inequality is greater, has a higher proportion of overweight people with almost 68 percent than Germany with 56.8 percent. According to Blüher, overweight affects socially weaker families and people with a lower level of education more often.
According to Blüher, other populations tend to have protective genes. In South Korea, for example, only about 30 percent of adults are overweight.
A danger for the individual, but also a burden for the health system: the secondary diseases of obesity cause costs – for example for treatment, lost work and rehabilitation.
According to Blüher, it is particularly hard for those countries that previously had a low proportion of overweight people and are now seeing a sharp increase. Because they are not prepared for the problems there.
So far, all of them have been among those states that had no problem with being overweight. In 2016, Vietnam was the country with the lowest proportion of overweight adult residents. According to Blüher, the fact that the countries are starting from a very low level is probably due to genetic factors, but also to greater physical activity.
“Obesity is just a sign of too much energy,” says Biesalski. That alone is not enough for a healthy diet. “Often a lot of the necessary substances such as vitamins, minerals and trace elements are missing.” Especially in developing countries, many children are nourished on corn, rice and wheat – or with the help of eating from fast food chains that have expanded significantly. In contrast, fruit, vegetables and meat are often too expensive.
Biesalski fears that malnutrition will increase due to the corona pandemic. The goals that the UN have set for itself within the framework of the Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs) such as ending hunger are no longer to achieve – although in theory the solution would be simple. “ The way is very simple,” says Biesalski. “We have to enable people to get better quality nutrition at a price that matches their income.”
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Obesity Malnutrition Worldwide percent adults overweight