A physiotherapist assists obese patients with exercises / Getty Images


The global obesity epidemic is worse than previously thought, experts have said, as new figures reveal that 2.1 billion people – well over a quarter of the world’s population – are now overweight or obese.

Huge increases in the proportion of obese people in Middle Eastern countries including Egypt and Saudi Arabia have added to existing burdens in Western countries and Asian giants including China and India.

The most recent global figures from the World Health Organisation, from 2008, estimated 1.4 billion adults were overweight or obese. The new figures, released by the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013 and published in The Lancet medical journal today, show that obesity rates among children have grown even faster than among adults in the past 30 years.

The UK, where more than a quarter of adults are obese, and more than 40 per cent of men and a third of women are overweight, has had the highest 30-year increase in obesity prevalence in Western Europe. 

Half of the world’s nearly 700 million obese people – those with a body mass index of 30 or more – now live in just 10 countries, the study reveals, with the USA accounting for 13 per cent, and China and India with 15 per cent combined.

In developed countries, men are more likely to be obese, but the reverse is true of developing countries. In some Pacific states, including Samoa and Micronesia, and Middle Eastern countries including Kuwait and Qatar, the majority of women are now obese.

Professor Emmanuela Gakidou, who led the study, said that overweight and obesity was a “major global health risk” which, unlike comparable problems such as smoking and malnutrition, was not decreasing.

“Our findings show that increases in the prevalence of obesity have been substantial, widespread, and have arisen over a short time,” she said. 

However, she added there was some evidence that of a “plateau” in adult obesity rates which may suggest the epidemic is nearing its peak.