Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Obesity now a weighty global problem

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LONDON -- Almost a third of the world is now fat, and no country has been able to curb obesity rates in the last three decades, according to a new global analysis.

Researchers found more than two billion people worldwide are now overweight or obese. The highest rates were in the Middle East and North Africa, where nearly 60 per cent of men and 65 per cent of women are heavy. The U.S. has about 13 per cent of the world's fat population, a greater percentage than any other country. China and India combined have about 15 per cent.

"It's pretty grim," said Christopher Murray of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, who led the study. He and colleagues reviewed more than 1,700 studies covering 188 countries from 1980 to 2013. "When we realized that not a single country has had a significant decline in obesity, that tells you how hard a challenge this is."

Murray said there was a strong link between income and obesity. In developing countries, as people get richer, their waistlines also tend to start bulging. In many rich countries such as the U.S. and Britain, the trend is reversed -- though only slightly. Murray said scientists have noticed accompanying spikes in diabetes as obesity has risen and rates of cancers linked to weight, such as pancreatic cancer, are also rising.

The new report was paid for by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and published online Thursday in the journal Lancet.

Last week, the World Health Organization established a high-level commission tasked with ending childhood obesity.

"Modernization has not been good for health," said Syed Shah, an obesity expert at United Arab Emirates University, who found obesity rates have jumped five times in the last 20 years, even in a handful of remote Himalayan villages in Pakistan. His research was presented this week at a conference in Bulgaria.

Shah said the villagers no longer have to rely on their own farms for food.

"There are roads for (companies) to bring in their processed foods."

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 30, 2014 B6

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