Levels of Overweight on the Rise

Richard H. Weil | Jun 14, 2011

The share of adults worldwide who are overweight jumped from 1.454 billion in 2002 to 1.934 billion in 2010, an increase of 25 percent.1 (See Table 1). Some 23 percent of individuals age 15 or older were overweight in 2002, while in 2010 the figure rose to 38 percent—even though the number of adults increased by only 11 percent during these eight years.2 Much of this change occurred in the industrial world. Economic, cultural, and possibly genetic factors all played a part. But in every country where the people have gotten heavier the result has been the same: an increase in preventable medical problems.3

Table 1. Overweight Adults Worldwide, 2002-2010

Overweight Adults


“Overweight” is used here for people with a body mass index (BMI)—a measure relating a person’s height to weight—of 25 or greater.4 (A person with a BMI of 30 or above is usually labeled “obese,” but here the term overweight covers overweight and obese populations combined.)5 The data considered are for those 15 and over in 177 nations—home to the vast majority of the world.6

Over the past decade the trend across regions and national income levels has tended to be toward heavier populations. India’s level of 19 percent adults overweight is up from 14 percent in 2002 and 16 percent in 2005.7 In Mexico the figure has risen by 8 percentage points since 2002, while Brazil’s is up by 7 points and the rate in the U.K. is up by 5 points.8 East Asia has seen a 4 point increase over the period.9

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