Health

Majority of the world could be overweight by 2035. How can we stop it?

The World Obesity Federation said it focuses on holistic approaches, but the rise of new medications in the U.S. is shifting the treatment landscape.

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Half of the world’s population will either be considered overweight or obese by 2035, according to data studied by the World Obesity Federation. Based on that trend, 1 in 4 people will have obesity in about a decade. 

The trend is also impacting children, with obesity rates on track to double between 2020 and 2035 for girls and boys, according to the annual report.

“In all, over 1.5 billion adults and nearly 400 million children will be living with obesity in 12 years time unless significant action is taken,” the federation stated. 

The World Obesity Federation defines obesity in its report by using the World Health Organization’s standards for body mass index (BMI). But using BMI, a number reached by dividing a person’s body mass by the square of their height, as a lens for obesity is becoming increasingly problematic. 

In 2023, the American Medical Association announced it was deemphasizing the use of BMI as a measurement in medicine, with one of the key reasons being it was created based primarily on data collected from previous generations of non-Hispanic white men. Therefore, the tool falls short of consistency for people in other categories of sex, ethnicity and race.

“Obesity is a chronic, relapsing disease influenced by numerous biological, social and environmental factors outside an individual’s control,” the World Obesity Federation noted. 

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While the disease has long been a problem in the United States, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting at least 33% of adults are considered obese, its not just an issue for high-income countries, the report stated. 

Obesity levels are rising fastest in low- and lower-middle-income countries, the report revealed, which are often the least able to respond to its consequences.

Over a decade ago, members of WHO committed to halt the increase in obesity rates by 2025, but the World Obesity Federation said no country is on track to meet those targets.

The federation said governments need to develop action plans that involve finding the root cause of obesity in their countries, monitoring obesity data, investing in obesity prevention and ensuring access to treatments. 

WHO adopted new recommendations for countries to address the rise in obesity back in 2022. Some of those recommendations included implementing national public education communication campaigns on physical activity, adding more nutrition professionals and taxing sugar-sweetened drinks. 

The World Obesity Federation said it focuses on holistic approaches to address the disease. But in the U.S. specifically, the rise of new anti-obesity drugs are shifting the landscape of treatment. 

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According to the Harvard Gazette, some physicians have applauded the use of medications, like Zepbound and Wegovy, as a part of a broader treatment plan for obesity. These drugs have proved to be startlingly effective, helping patients shed 10% to 22% of body weight in their first year of use, according to clinical studies. While research on long-term use is still ongoing, many struggling with obesity in the U.S. have seen it as a life-changing alternative to bariatric surgery. 

But others say it doesn’t address the root cause of the problem and the effects of the medications on obesity may only be a temporary solution. 

"For the moment we have not considered prescribed medications in our projections," a spokesperson for the World Obesity Federation told Scripps News. "Until these medications are widely accessible they will not impact at a population level."

The federation also noted that since those living with obesity in the U.S. are more likely to be low-income, based on their findings, they likely wouldn't have access to expensive anti-obesity medications. 

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