Over half the world will be overweight or obese by 2035

More than half the global population will either be overweight or obese within 12 years if prevention, treatment, and support do not improve, according to the finding of a new report by the World Obesity Federation.

More than 4 billion people, or 51% of the global population will be overweight by 2035 if current trends prevail, with 1 in 4 people (nearly 2 billion) impacted by obesity, a dramatic increase on current levels of 38% and 14% respectively. 

Even more concerning, the report notes that rates of childhood obesity are rising more rapidly than among adults and could more than double by 2035 compared with 2020 levels: rates are predicted to double among boys to 208 million (a 100% increase) and more than double among girls to 175 million (a 125% increase) and are rising more rapidly among children than adults. 

The World Obesity Atlas 2023, published by the World Obesity Federation on World Obesity Day, 2 March 2023, has predicted that the global economic impact of being overweight or obese will reach US$4.32 trillion annually by 2035 if prevention and treatment measures do not improve.  

At almost 3% of global GDP, this is comparable with the impact of COVID-19 in 2020. 

Professor Louise Baur, President of the World Obesity Federation, explained that acknowledgement of the economic impact is in no way a reflection of blame on people living with obesity, which is a chronic, relapsing disease. 

“This year’s Atlas is a clear warning that by failing to address obesity today, we risk serious repercussions in the future. It is particularly worrying to see obesity rates rising fastest among children and adolescents,” Professor Baur said. 

“Governments and policymakers around the world need to do all they can to avoid passing health, social, and economic costs on to the younger generation. That means looking urgently at the systems and root factors that contribute to obesity, and actively involving young people in the solutions.  

“If we act together now, we have the opportunity to help billions of people in the future.” 

Obesity is often seen as an issue for high income countries, where rates are generally higher. However, the report revealed that obesity levels are rising fastest in low and lower-middle income countries, which are often the least able to respond to obesity and its consequences. 

Of the 10 countries with the greatest expected increases in obesity globally (for both adults and children), 9 of those are from low or lower-middle income countries – all are from either Asia or Africa. 

By 2035, the economic impact of overweight and obesity is estimated to be over $370 billion a year in low and lower-middle income countries alone, yet the average preparedness ranking for low-income countries is just 154/183 compared to 29/183 for high income countries. 

Ms Rachel Jackson-Leach, Director of Science at the World Obesity Federation, pointed out that every single region will see an increase in economic impact by 2035, with the Americas (North, Central and South America) shouldering the highest costs as a proportion of GDP (3.7%) and the Western Pacific region the highest total costs (US$1.56 trillion). 

“If we do not act now, we are on course to see significant increases in obesity prevalence over the next decade,” she said. 

“The greatest increases will be seen in low and lower-middle income countries, where scarce resources and lack of preparedness will create a perfect storm that will negatively impact people living with obesity the most.” 

The Atlas report emphasised the importance of developing comprehensive national action plans and Universal Health Coverage to help countries implement new WHO Recommendations for the Prevention and Management of Obesity that were adopted in 2022. 

It also acknowledged the impact of climate change, COVID restrictions, new pandemics, and chemical pollutants on overweight and obesity and warns that without ambitious and coordinated action to address systemic issues, obesity rates could rise still further. 

Ms Johanna Ralston, CEO of the World Obesity Federation, said that the organisation is calling for a robust international response to this fast-growing crisis.  

“Let us be clear: the economic impact of obesity is not the fault of individuals living with the disease. It is a result of high-level failures to provide the environmental, healthcare, food, and support systems that we all need to live happy, healthy lives,” Ms Ralston explained.

“Addressing these issues will be valuable in so many ways, to billions of people. We simply cannot afford to ignore the rising rates of obesity any longer.  

“We hope that the findings of this latest Atlas will convince policymakers and civil society to act and make tangible commitments to change in their regions.”