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Study: More Obese People Than Underweight

A competitor prepares to audition for a reality television program during which overweight or obese contestants hope to lose weight by dancing, in New York, December 18, 2009.
World's Obese Outnumber Underweight
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A new report says there are now more obese people in the world than there are underweight people.

Researchers from Imperial College London wrote the report. Their findings were published in the British medical journal The Lancet.

The researchers examined health records from about 20 million people for what they called the “world’s biggest obesity study.”

Obesity is a condition in which the body stores large, unhealthy amounts of fat. Obese individuals are considered overweight.

For the study, the researchers compared the body measurements of almost 20 million adults. They found that from 1975 to 2014, global obesity rates for men increased from 3.2 percent of the population to 10.8 percent. For women, it rose from 6.4 percent to 14.9 percent.

They estimate that in 2014 there were 266 million obese men and 375 million obese women worldwide. That represents about 9 percent of the more than 7 billion people alive today.

The study found that more than 2.3 percent of men and 5 percent of women are considered severely obese. A severely obese individual has a body mass index (or BMI) of over 35 kilograms per square meter. BMI is a way to measure a person’s height compared to their weight.

The study also found that about 1 percent of men and 2 percent of women are considered “morbidly obese.” Such people have difficulty with simple activities because they are overweight. The researchers say there are now 55 million morbidly obese adults worldwide.

Majid Ezzati is the chief writer of the report. He works at the Imperial College School of Public Health.

He writes that “the number of people across the globe whose weight poses a serious threat to their health is greater than ever before. He adds that this epidemic of severe obesity is too extensive to be tackled with just medications.

He says coordinated global initiatives are needed to tackle this crisis. These initiatives include looking at the “price of healthy food compared to unhealthy food, or taxing high sugar and highly-processed foods.”

The researchers warn if the problem of obesity worsens, 18 percent of men and 21 percent of women will be obese by 2025.

The study found that China has the most obese people of any country and the United States has the largest number of severely obese people.

The researchers also studied the number of people who are said to be underweight in different countries. They said underweight levels have dropped from 14 percent to 9 percent among men, and from 15 percent to 10 percent among women.

About a fourth of the world’s underweight people live in India and Bangladesh.

I’m Anna Matteo. reported this story. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted the report for Learning English. The editors were Kathleen Struck and George Grow.

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Words in This Story

obese – adj. very fat; fat in a way that is unhealthy

morbidly – adv. relating to death

pose – v. to be or create (a possible threat, danger, problem, etc.)

epidemic – n. an occurrence in which a disease spreads very quickly and affects a large number of people

extensive – adj. large in size or amount; very full or complete

tackle – v. to deal with (something difficult)

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