Obese People Outnumber Underweight for First Time

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It's not just Americans who are getting fatter -- it's the world as a whole, new research shows.

It’s not just Americans who are getting fatter — it’s the world as a whole, new research shows.

Over the past four decades, the percentage of people medically considered underweight has decreased while the percentage of people who are considered obese has grown.

As a result, the obese now outnumber the underweight for the first time ever.

Those are among the findings of a massive study published in the latest issue of the medical journal The Lancet.

The study was based on data on more than 19.2 million adult men and women from 186 countries, and it examined how body mass index scores changed from 1975 to 2014.

Body mass index, or BMI, is a measure of weight that also takes height into consideration. (You can use the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Adult BMI Calculator to determine your own.)

The researchers focused on the BMI ranges that are defined as underweight, obese, severely obese or morbidly obese.

  • Underweight: Below 18.5
  • Obese: 30 or more
  • Severely obese: 35 or more
  • Morbidly obese: 40 or more

For reference, the CDC also lists the following:

  • Normal/healthy: 18.5 to 24.9
  • Overweight: 25 to 29.9

From 1975 to 2014, the researchers found that the average BMI globally increased in both men (21.7 to 24.2) and women (22.1 to 24.4).

At the core of the researchers’ findings, however, are these changes between 1975 and 2014:

  • The percentage of people classified as underweight decreased in both men (13.8 percent to 8.8 percent) and women (14.6 percent to 9.7 percent).
  • The percentage of people classified as obese increased in both men (3.2 percent to 10.8 percent) and women (6.4 percent to 14.9 percent).

Still, our increasing weight has yet to stop our increasing life expectancy.

A commentary about the research that was published in the same issue of The Lancet notes that from 1975 to 2014, the global life expectancy at birth increased from less than 59 years to more than 71 years:

“The common sense view that large increases in obesity should translate into adverse trends in health is not immediately obvious in the global data. The world is at once fatter and healthier.”

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Stacy Johnson

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