Worldwide rates of obesity have doubled since 1980, but levels of cholesterol and blood pressure are strikingly different between rich and poor countries, according to a study conducted by researchers from Imperial College London and published in The Lancet.
In 1980, 5 percent of men and 8 percent of women were estimated to be obese. By 2008, those figures had increased to 10 percent and 14 percent, respectively. An increase in obesity rates is expected to be accompanied by an increase in heart disease, diabetes, cancer and other conditions, along with a worsening life expectancy.
“Obesity can take more than a decade off a person’s life span,” writes Melody Petersen in the book Our Daily Meds.
“Researchers reported in 2005 that the [United States’] growing epidemic of obesity may soon cause life expectancies to decline.”
Obesity levels have now reached problematic levels in all inhabited parts of the world with the exception of sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia. Among wealthy countries, the United States had the highest average body mass index (BMI) at 28, which is considered overweight but not obese. The average Australian and New Zealander is also overweight. The highest BMIs in Europe were found in the Czech Republic and Turkey.
BMI is an obesity measure of weight relative to height. A BMI above 30 is considered obese. In some Pacific island nations, the average BMI is as high as 35.
Blood pressure and cholesterol levels increased in poor countries between 1980 and 2008, but fell in richer countries. Nevertheless, rich countries tended to have both the highest and lowest overall levels. Australia, Cambodia, Canada, South Korea and the United States had the lowest blood pressure levels, while Finland, Norway and Portugal had the highest. Cholesterol levels were lowest in Africa, and were lowest among rich countries in Canada, Greece, Sweden and the United States. They were highest in Iceland, Germany and Greenland.
“It’s heartening that many countries have successfully reduced blood pressure and cholesterol despite rising BMI,” lead author Majid Ezzati said. “Improved screening and treatment probably helped to lower these risk factors in high-income countries, as did using less salt and healthier, unsaturated fats.”
Yet researchers remain divided over whether decreasing cholesterol and blood pressure without lowering weight will actually lower a person’s risk of illness and death.
Sources for this story include: bloomberg.com