Will half the world be overweight or obese in a dozen years?

That’s the prediction of the World Obesity Federation, which predicts more than 4 billion people will be obese or overweight — more than a quarter of the world population will be obese — if preventive measures aren’t implemented. And the group says the price tag will exceed $4.3 trillion by then.

“At almost 3% of GDP, this is comparable with the impact of COVID-19 in 2020,” the group said.

The federation’s president, Louise Baur, in a written statement on the group’s website called the report a “clear warning that by failing to address obesity today, we risk serious health repercussions in the future.”

The report, called the World Obesity Atlas 2023, also predicts that:

  • Childhood obesity could more than double by 2035, compared to 2020 levels. The rate for boys is predicted to double to 208 million, while girls could see a 125% increase to 175 million. Obesity is growing faster among kids than among adults.
  • Lower-income countries are seeing a faster increase in obesity. Of 10 countries with the predicted highest rates of increase, nine are low- or lower-middle income countries. All are in Asia and Africa.
  • Obesity is a “chronic, relapsing disease.” The report says comments on the economic impact are “in no way a reflection of blame on people living with obesity.”

Baur said that “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. That means looking urgently at the systems and root factors that contribute to the 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.”

“The data will be presented to United Nations policymakers and member states next week,” Reuters reported.

Overweight or obese in America

The Guardian said the federation is an “alliance of health, scientific, research and campaign groups, and works closely on obesity with various global agencies, including the World Health Organization (WHO).”

The report uses body mass index — the so-called BMI — to determine whether or not someone is a healthy weight. The number is arrived at by dividing a person’s weight in kilograms by their height in meters. Most people use one of the many BMI calculators available online, which automatically converts the formula from pounds and feet and inches in the United States and some other countries.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a reliable BMI calculator for adults and a separate one for children and teens, ages 2 through 19.

If the answer is below 18.5, a person is considered underweight, which has its own health risks. A healthy weight is between 18.5 and 24.9. A reading above 25 is overweight, while anything 30 and above indicates obesity.

Among adults, the CDC reports that more than 4 in 10 adults in the U.S. were obese as of March 2020, an increase from 30.5% to 41.9% since 2000.

Obesity-related risks include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers, including colon cancer, which has been on the rise in the United States, as the Deseret News just reported.

“These are among the leading causes of preventable, premature death,” the national health organization said.

Excess weight can also create musculoskeletal problems and joint wear.

CDC puts the medical cost of obesity at near $173 billion in 2019 dollars in the U.S. It said medical costs for obese adults were on average $1,861 higher than medical costs for those with healthy weight.

Worldwide focus

The report ranks “rich European nations as the 10 best prepared of 183 countries studied. That list is headed by Switzerland, Norway, Finland, Iceland and Sweden. The United Kingdom was judged seventh on that measure,” The Guardian reported.

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The World Health Organization has long been talking about the dire health risks associated with obesity and calling for worldwide action. In December, for instance, the international group called on countries to “tax sugar-sweetened beverages to save lives.”

It noted that at least 85 countries have some form of taxation on sugar-added drinks — including Mexico, South Africa and the United Kingdom.

The group likened the measure to taxes on tobacco and alcohol, which it said have “proven to be cost-effective ways of preventing diseases, injuries and premature mortality.”

Losing weight

Exercise, adequate sleep and healthy food choices are considered the frontline defense to maintain a healthy weight. But it’s a complicated — and sometimes highly individualized — story.

How people eat is part of the story when it comes to packing around an unhealthy number of pounds. But experts say it’s not the whole story. Some people have a genetic predisposition to weight gain.

Sedentary jobs and habits are part of the story, too.

And studies have suggested a number of outside factors that are harder for an individual to control, like a possible link between obesity in middle-aged women and air pollution, as the Deseret News reported last October.

In a recent story on two new drugs that may promote weight loss, Wegovy and Ozempic, Dr. R. Richard Rasmussen, a gastric and general surgeon at Intermountain Utah Valley Hospital who’s an expert in medically supervised weight loss, said that people who stick to a weight-loss plan sometimes regain the weight.

“If you are obese and you’ve lost a significant amount of weight, the data shows that you’re going to forever need to consume fewer calories than somebody else who weighs that same weight,” he said.

There are likely socioeconomic factors, as well, including what kinds of foods families can afford. Many easy-to-prepare and relatively affordable foods contribute to weight gain. Rasmussen said some of the ingredients that help keep costs down “just don’t work as well for our body.”

Per that article, “The convenience aspect plays in, too. People who are exhausted at the end of the day eat out more and also eat more prepared, processed foods. ‘Our society just pushes us toward that,’ he said.”