The Western Pacific islands of Nauru and Tonga have the highest global prevalence of overweight where nine out of every 10 adults are overweight, reports the World Health Organisation, warning that it will lead to an overwhelming chronic disease burden in these countries in the next 10 to 20 years, if action is not taken now.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that over one billion people are overweight globally, and that if current trends continue, that number will increase to 1.5 billion by 2015. This warning comes in advance of World Heart Day on 25 September.
Overweight and obesity are important risk factors for cardiovascular disease, which is the number one cause of death and accounts for over 17 million deaths every year. Once considered a problem only in wealthy countries, WHO estimates show that overweight and obesity are now dramatically on the rise in low and middle income countries. This is due to a number of factors, including a global shift in diet towards increased energy, fat, salt and sugar intake, and a trend towards decreased physical activity due to the sedentary nature of modern work and transportation, and increasing urbanisation.
According to WHO estimates, more than 75% of women over the age of 30 are now overweight in countries as diverse as Barbados, Egypt, Malta, Mexico, South Africa, Turkey, and the United States. Estimates are similar for men, with over 75% now overweight in, for example, Argentina, Germany, Greece, Kuwait, New Zealand, Samoa, and the United Kingdom. Notably, the Western Pacific islands of Nauru and Tonga have the highest global prevalence of overweight where nine out of every 10 adults are overweight.
"The sheer magnitude of the overweight and obesity problem is staggering," said Dr Catherine Le-Galès Camus, WHO Assistant Director-General of Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health. "The rapid increase of overweight and obesity in many low and middle income countries foretells an overwhelming chronic disease burden in these countries in the next 10 to 20 years, if action is not taken now."
"The real tragedy is that overweight and obesity, and their related chronic diseases, are largely preventable," said Dr Robert Beaglehole, WHO Director of Chronic Diseases and Health Promotion. "Approximately 80% of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes, and 40% of cancer could be avoided through healthy diet, regular physical activity and avoidance of tobacco use."