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Food Sick

Food Sick: The Obesity Epidemic

Written by: Emily J., MSc RD

Reviewed by: Dr. Vimal Ramjee, MD, FACC

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burger, fries, and soda on a tray

5 minutes

This World Health Day, we’re talking about the obesity epidemic and a recent report that came out about global health trends. We’ll cover the details of the report, what it means for world health, and how you can combat the obesity epidemic and stay healthier for longer.

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].

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].

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: 



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