TOPICS > Health

Measuring the weight of the world

BY Kristin Miller  February 16, 2014 at 2:07 PM EST

The United States and Mexico are now effectively tied for a top spot nobody really wants — most obese in the developed world.

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), both populations are edging the 70 percent mark for citizens who are considered overweight or obese.*

Heavy World Final

Sunday, NewsHour Weekend reports from Mexico on government efforts to combat obesity by encouraging exercise and taxing sugary drinks and high-calorie snack foods. These are strategies the whole world might soon need to embrace as obesity is fast becoming a global epidemic.

Weight in the developed world

The rise in obesity brings with it numerous health problems: hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, respiratory problems, musculoskeletal diseases and some forms of cancer.

According to the OECD, “mortality also increases progressively once the overweight threshold is crossed.”

The OECD’s most recent figures are stark:

  • 52.6 percent of adults in OECD countries report themselves as overweight or obese
  • 55.6 percent of adults in countries that measure their populations are overweight or obese
  • More than 50 percent of adults in 20 of 24 OECD countries are obese or overweight

Obesity rates vary widely in the OECD from lows of 4 percent in Japan and Korea to 32 percent in the United States and Mexico.

But, since 2000, obesity rates have increased by a third or more in 16 out of the 34 member states. (OECD Factbook, 2013)

Weight in the developing world

As traditional diets change to include the sugary drinks and high-calorie snacks targeted in Mexico’s health program, the developing world is seeing greater numbers of overweight and obese individuals.

The “Future Diets” report notes:

  • One in three adults in the world (1.46 billion) were overweight or obese in 2008, up by 23 percent since 1980
  • More adults were overweight or obese in developing countries than in rich countries in 2008
  • The number of overweight or obese people in the developing world more than tripled from 250 million in 1980 to 904 million in 2008

The study notes that despite this rapid increase in obesity in the developing world, some 842 million people go to bed hungry.

*According to the OECD the most frequently-used measures for overweight and obese and based on the body mass index (BMI), which evaluates an individual’s weight in relation to their height. Based on the WHO classification, adults with a BMI between 25 and 30 are defined as overweight, and those with a BMI over 30 as obese.

See what the Mexican government is doing to reduce obesity: