Publication date: 
May 28, 2014

Roughly two-thirds of adults, nearly 30% of children are overweight or obese

SEATTLE—The highest proportion of overweight and obese people – 13% of the global total – live in the United States, a country which accounts for only 5% of the world’s population, according to a first-of-its-kind analysis of trend data from 188 countries.

An estimated 160 million Americans are either obese or overweight. Nearly three-quarters of American men and more than 60% of women are obese or overweight. These are also major challenges for America’s children – nearly 30% of boys and girls under age 20 are either obese or overweight, up from 19% in 1980.

Published in The Lancet on May 29, the study, “Global, regional, and national prevalence of overweight and obesity in children and adults during 1980–2013: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013,” was conducted by an international consortium of researchers led by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington. Overweight is defined as having a Body Mass Index (BMI), or weight-to-height ratio, greater than or equal to 25 and lower than 30, while obesity is defined as having a BMI equal to or greater than 30.

The results are also available in an online tool at

When looking at obesity alone, there are more obese adults living in America today – 78 million – than in any other country in the world. China follows at a distant second with 46 million obese and India with 30 million – countries which together represent 15% of the world’s obese population. Approximately one-third of American men (32%) and women (34%) were obese in 2013 compared with about 4% of Chinese and Indian adults.

Among American children, 13% were obese in 2013, putting the US among the top 15 countries with the greatest obesity prevalence in children worldwide. Obesity prevalence among American children was nearly twice what was found among Western Europeans. The rate of children being overweight but not obese reached a peak in 2004 and has slowly declined, but obesity rates have remained at about 13% since 2003.

“The rise in obesity among children in the US is especially troubling,” said Marie Ng, Assistant Professor of Global Health at IHME and the paper’s lead author. “We know that there are severe health effects related to childhood obesity, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and many cancers. We need to be thinking now about how to turn this trend around.”

When examining overweight and obesity trends across North America, more American men and women were found to be obese or overweight than Canadians. The prevalence of being either obese or overweight among American men (71%) was higher than among Canadian men (65%), and higher in American women (62% vs. 49%). When compared with Mexican men (67%), American men had slightly higher rates of being either obese or overweight. However, more Mexican women (71%) were obese or overweight than American women.

In the US the greatest prevalence of obesity and overweight was found among men aged 50 to 54 (80%) and women aged 60 to 64 (73%). Among Americans under age 20, the greatest prevalence in being overweight or obese was found among children ages 10 to 14, with boys at 38% and girls at 37%.

“Being overweight or even obese is a growing, unchecked problem in the US today,” said Dr. Ali Mokdad, Professor of Global Health at IHME. “We are looking at a major public health epidemic that must be stopped.”

Over the course of the 33-year study, the prevalence of overweight and obesity in adults in the US and Canada – the highest-income countries in North America – rose from 50% to 65%, achieving the highest prevalence observed in all of the GBD regions examined. For children, the prevalence of overweight and obesity in Canada and the US combined rose substantially, from 19% to nearly 29% over the study period.

“Obesity is an issue affecting people of all ages and incomes, everywhere,” said Dr. Christopher Murray, director of IHME and a co-founder of the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) study. “In the last three decades, not one country has achieved success in reducing obesity rates, and we expect obesity to rise steadily as incomes rise in low- and middle-income countries in particular, unless urgent steps are taken to address this public health crisis.”

Globally, while the percentage of people worldwide who are either overweight or obese has risen substantially over the last 30 years, there have been marked variations across regions and countries. In developed countries, increases in obesity that began in the 1980s and accelerated from 1992 to 2002 have slowed since 2006. Conversely, in developing countries, where almost two-thirds of the world’s obese people currently live, increases are likely to continue.

Between 1980 and 2013, the prevalence of overweight/obese children and adolescents increased by nearly 50%. In 2013, more than 22% of girls and nearly 24% of boys living in developed countries were found to be overweight or obese. Rates are also on the rise among children and adolescents in the developing world, where nearly 13% of boys and more than 13% of girls are overweight or obese. Particularly high rates of child and adolescent obesity were seen in Middle Eastern and North African countries, notably among girls.

Key findings:

  • More than 50% of the world’s 671 million obese live in 10 countries (ranked beginning with the countries with the most obese people): US, China, India, Russia, Brazil, Mexico, Egypt, Germany, Pakistan, and Indonesia.
  • In high-income countries, some of the greatest increases in adult obesity have been in the US, Australia (where nearly 30% of men and women are obese), and the UK (where around a quarter of the adult population is obese).
  • Today, 2.1 billion people – nearly one-third of the world’s population – are overweight or obese. The number of overweight and obese individuals in the world has increased from 857 million (20%) in 1980 to 2.1 billion (30%) in 2013.
  • From 1980 to 2013, the prevalence of overweight and obesity in children increased by nearly 50%.

Health risks such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, osteoarthritis, and chronic kidney disease increase when a person’s BMI exceeds 23. In 2010, obesity and overweight were estimated to have caused 3.4 million deaths globally, most of which were from cardiovascular causes. Research indicates that if left unaddressed, the rise in obesity could lead to future declines in life expectancy in countries worldwide.

Download the study at

The online data visualization tool is available at

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) is an independent global health research organization at the University of Washington that provides rigorous and comparable measurement of the world’s most important health problems and evaluates the strategies used to address them. IHME makes this information widely available so that policymakers have the evidence they need to make informed decisions about how to allocate resources to best improve population health.

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