Obesity is rising, not just in the U.S., where it has steadily increased for decades, but around the globe—even in countries that have suffered food shortages, a new study shows. And the culprit isn't a lack of exercise—it's the availability of bad food.
In fact, more than 10 percent of the world's population is now considered obese, the New York Times reports on the recent study, considered to be the most comprehensive yet.
Researchers at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington analyzed 195 countries and found rates of obesity had doubled from 1980 to 2015 in a whopping 73 of them. This study defined obesity as having a body mass index of 30 or higher. (Anyone with a BMI from 25 to 29 is considered overweight.) By those measures, 604 million adults and 108 million children are obese globally.
As the newspaper notes, the U.S. has the "dubious distinction" of having the largest percentage point obesity increase of any country, going from 16 to 26.5 percent of the population. And 12.5 percent of our youth are obese.
So, what gives? Sitting on our bums isn't to blame. Rather, scientists believe the availability of "bad" foods—think: overly processed, nutrient-poor items like snacks and junk foods—are responsible for our collective weight gain. And that's even more bad news.
"We have more processed food, more energy-dense food, more intense marketing of food products, and these products are more available and more accessible," Afshin told the newspaper. "The food environment seems to be the main driver of obesity."
Unfortunately, reversing this troubling trend isn't exactly easy, especially if these researchers are correct in their assumption that our food supply a big part of the problem. "It is all very nice to talk about the need to eat less unhealthy foods and more healthy foods," Adam Drewnowsk, director of the Center for Public Health Nutrition at the University of Washington, told the New York Times. But "unhealthy foods cost less; healthier foods often cost more. People eat what they can afford."
That's especially true in poorer nations, such as three countries in Africa—Burkina Faso, Mali and Guinea-Bissau—which had huge increases in their obesity rates. Take Burkina Faso: In 1980, one-third of one percent of the nation's population was obese, the study shows. Seven percent of the population is categorized as obese now.
And, of course, obesity leads to myriad health problems: the researchers found fat "played a part" in four million deaths in 2015 alone, the newspaper reports. Those deaths were caused by heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease, and more.
What's clear is that when it comes to the battle against obesity, America is not alone. But what remains to be seen is how we and our international peers will tackle the root causes of this, now global, epidemic.