Huge increase in heart attacks, strokes and diabetes predicted as obesity quadruples

The British think tank said one in three people worldwide is now overweight and urged governments to take steps to influence diets.

While the percentage of adults who were overweight or obese swelled from 23 percent to 34 percent globally between 1980 and 2008, most of this increase occurred in the developing world, especially in countries like Mexico where incomes were rising.

This is due to changing diets and a shift from eating cereals and grains to the consumption of more oils, fats, sugar and animal produce, according to the ODI’s Future Diets report.

In developing countries, 904 million people are now classed as overweight or above, up from 250 million in 1980. This compares to 557 million in high-income countries.

The researchers drew on data published in Population Health Metrics last year to examine changing overweight and obesity rates across world regions and by individual countries.

North Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and the Caribbean saw increases in overweight and obesity rates swell to a level comparable with Europe at about 58 percent.

And while North America still has the highest percentage of overweight adults at a staggering 70 percent, regions such as Australasia and southern Latin America are now closing in fast with 63 percent.

South-east Asia showed the biggest growth in overweight people, with the percentage tripling from seven to 22 percent.

According to researcher Steve Wiggins, there were likely to be multiple reasons for the increases.

“People with higher incomes have the ability to choose the kind of foods they want. Changes in lifestyle, the increasing availability of processed foods, advertising, media influences… have all led to dietary changes,” he said.

This was particularly the case in emerging economies, where a large middle class of people with rising incomes was living in urban centres and not taking much physical exercise, he added.

The resulting “explosion in overweight and obesity in the past 30 years” could have serious health implications, he warned.

According to the United Nations, the consumption of fat, salt and sugar, which has increased globally, is a significant factor in cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some cancers.

In an effort to deflate the ballooning problem, Wiggins suggested more concerted public health measures, similar to those implemented to limit smoking in developed countries.

“Politicians need to be less shy about trying to influence what food ends up on our plates,” he said.

“The challenge is to make healthy diets viable whilst reducing the appeal of foods which carry a less certain nutritional value.”

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