In spite of global campaigns that encourage a healthy diet and increased physical activity, the worldwide obesity epidemic continues to rear its ugly head. A study conducted at the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation has revealed that 2.1 billion people in the world were considered obese or overweight in 2013 compared to 857 million people in 1980.

“The issues associated with weight gain beyond the proper capacity of human physiology and associated health consequences are well understood,” said Klim McPherson, visiting professor of epidemiology at the Nuffield Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology at the University of Oxford, in an accompanying editorial.

Ten countries accounted for 50 percent of the world’s obesity population, including the United States, China, Mexico, India, Russia, Germany, Brazil, Indonesia, Egypt, and Pakistan. The U.S. was home to 13 percent of obese people in the world, making it the heaviest country across the board. Overall, between 1980 and 2013, global obesity rates increased among adults by 28 percent and 47 percent among children.

Surprisingly, obesity statistics in many developing countries experienced a steepest increase over the past 33 years, while developed countries seemed to level off. For example, in South Africa, a country struggling with malnutrition and HIV/AIDS, 42 percent of women were also battling with obesity. Estimated obesity epidemics among men in Tonga and women in Kuwait, Libya, Qatar, Samoa, and the Federated States of Micronesia all excessed 50 percent.

“Together with the technological revolution in food science and the sale of junk food, modern lifestyles and increasing disposable income play a part in this problem,” McPherson added. “Although appetite is necessary for survival, increased exposure to processed food is overwhelming people, and effective strategies to reduce body-mass index (BMI) in populations are scarce.”

According to the World Health Organization, upward of 3.4 million adults around the world die each year as a result of being overweight or obese, making complications from weigh gain the leading risk for global deaths. Overweight and obesity also contributes to 44 percent of the diabetes burden, 23 percent of heart disease, and between seven and 41 percent of certain types of cancer.

Source: Ng M, Fleming T, Murray C, et al. 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. The Lancet. 2014.