Food Sick

Food Sick: The Obesity Epidemic

5 minutes read

April 7th is World Health Day, a day to shed light on ways we can globally improve systems and services that provide healthcare. In honor of World Health Day, we want to talk a bit about a global health concern and what you as an individual can do to combat it. 

We’re talking about the Obesity Epidemic and the recent concerning statics from the World Obesity Federation. According to a global study, the current obesity trends are progressing so that by 2035 over half the world’s population will be overweight or obese [1]. Said another way, the majority of the population will be overweight or obese by this time, and about 25%, or almost 2 billion people, will be obese. 

This is a staggering statistic — and will have drastic implications for global health, the global economy, and the younger generations, as child obesity rates are on the rise as well.

However, there is good news: we still have time to ensure these predictions don’t become a reality. Global obesity is a complex problem that will require multi-approach solutions. But you have the power to be a part of the solution by understanding and improving your health.

Global obesity rates

While you may only have heard about obesity being on the rise in recent years, obesity rates have been climbing for some time now. Public health data suggests that the obesity epidemic began in the late 1970s in the USA, and began in other developed nations in the 1980s [2].

This initial uptick in obesity rates in the US, starting in 1976, affected all genders, ethnicities, and age groups, indicating a population-wide health problem beginning to take hold.

While many factors have contributed to the rise of obesity, one of the main contributors is the rise of ultra-processed foods. This, coupled with the easy and constant availability of food, the low cost of ultra-processed foods, and the increase in portion sizes, allowed the US to become the global leader in the rise in obesity [3, 4]. People are also moving far less than they used to, with just under 25% of Americans meeting the minimum recommended weekly physical activity [5].

The rest of the world was not far behind, however. The Westernization of diets — meaning diets high in calories and ultra-processed foods and low in fruits and vegetables — in both developed nations and developing countries caused obesity rates to climb globally [6]. 

The consequences of our obesity epidemic

As a result of these increasing obesity rates, more and more people are living with chronic conditions like Type 2 Diabetes, heart disease, and cancer that affect our lifespans and healthspans. In other words, we’re not living as long, and more of our years are spent in poor health [8].

The obesity epidemic and the metabolic health crisis fuel one another, exacerbating both obesity and metabolic health problems like insulin resistance, glucose dysregulation, high blood pressure, and Type 2 Diabetes.

As global rates of obesity have increased, marginalized, low-income, and rural populations have disproportionately suffered.  In the US, food insecurity and food deserts, where ultra-processed foods are more available than fresh produce, are more common in rural, low-income neighborhoods that have high Black and Hispanic populations. Worldwide, 9 out of 10 of the nations expected to see the greatest rise in obesity are low- and middle-income developing nations, all of which are in Africa and Asia. 

Our healthcare systems across the world, our global economies, and most importantly, our lives will be drastically impacted by this epidemic if we do not take action.

What you can do

The first step to tackling a problem is being aware of the problem and understanding how it impacts you. Whether or not you are overweight or obese, the world today makes choosing ultra-processed foods, skipping exercise, not getting enough sleep, and constant stress the norm– and all of us are suffering as a result. 

But we’re not out of time yet. You can still take meaningful steps towards improving our habits and living active, joyful, illness-free lives that are healthy and long. Here are a few things you can do to combat the obesity epidemic in your own life: 

  • Focus on whole, colorful foods: Only 1 in 10 Americans get enough fruits and vegetables in their diet, and many European countries don’t meet the daily requirements for produce consumption [9, 10]. Aim to get 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. If cost is an issue, frozen and canned produce work just as well and is equally as nutritious. Aim to eat produce in a variety of colors, which will improve your intake of vitamins, minerals, and polyphenols, increase your fiber intake, and help you manage a healthy weight. 
  • Get an exercise routine: Exercise can help you maintain a healthy weight and prevent weight gain. Try to do 3 days a week of 30 min or more of aerobic excise, and 2 days a week of strength training. Strength training is important for increasing muscle mass, losing fat mass, and improving insulin sensitivity, all of which can improve body composition and weight. If you’re looking for a workout routine, try one of these.
  • Prioritize sleep: Sleep is a crucial part of maintaining metabolic health and a healthy weight. A recent systematic review found that sleep duration and quality were associated with loss of body fat, improved diet, and greater weight loss success in people trying to lose weight [11]. Aim to get 7-9 hours of sleep a night, have a consistent bedtime and wake time, and sleep in a cool, dark room for improved sleep quality. 
  • Build stress resilience: Stress management can help you combat chronic stress, which is associated with poor health outcomes like weight gain and chronic conditions. Try meditation, yoga, and deep breathing techniques to improve stress levels and manage metabolic health for an ideal body weight. 
  • Find a community for support: Social connection is vital to our mental and physical health. Having a strong social community has been linked to decreased anxiety and depression, improved immune function, and increased longevity [12]. When it comes to weight, positive social support and encouragement are connected with higher success in losing and maintaining weight [13]. So talk to the people in your life about the importance of health. Do something active, cook a nutritious meal, or talk about starting a health journey together.



Written by: Emily Johnson, MSc RD
Reviewed by: Dr. Vimal Ramjee, MD, FACC

Table of Contents

  • Global obesity rates
  • The consequences of our obesity epidemic
  • What you can do


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