Obesity is not just an American problem anymore. A recent international survey by the Worldwatch Institute, found that nearly two billion people around the world are overweight. Health statistics were gathered from 177 countries. Researchers there say the trend is being driven, ironically, by rising personal income, which is leading people to eat fattier foods and exercise less.
"Every population is getting heavier. Among the industrialized countries the heaviest has been in the United States, to some extent Canada, Britain and Australia," explained Richard Weil, who led the survey.
In compiling its statistics, the Institute combined those who are overweight with those who are obese. In other words, all those with a body mass index of 25 or greater were counted as overweight.
Weil says, in some industrialized countries nearly 80 percent of adults are overweight. The United States leads with 78.6 percent of the adult population in that category.
“Everywhere, where the money and the leisure time [are] available, people seem to be exercising less and eating more poorly,” Weil said.
He says people don't necesarily have to be rich to have a weight problem. But in many countries, income is rising and there is easy access to low-quality foods.
China and India, for example, both have a growing middle class.
"China seems to be increasing in overweight in many areas. Again, it seems to be tied into income and is also showing very highly in the Middle East in some of these oil rich countries,” explained Weil.
Japan and France had the lowest proportions of overweight adults, mostly because people in those countries typically eat smaller portions.
As the number of overweight people grows, so do health problems. Type-2 diabetes is closely related to obesity. And there's a long list of complications related to diabetes, including kidney and cardiovascular disease, blindness and amputation.
“We monitor obesity over the years. There has been a significant uptick in the late 80s in obesity," said Dr. Ann Albright, who heads the Division of Diabetes Translation at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC. "In diabetes, that uptick happened about 6 years later. So there is a bit of a lag time, but from an epidemiologic perspective we are able to see a relationship."
According to the World Health Organization, more than 300 million people worldwide have Type-2 diabetes. China, India and the U.S. have the largest numbers.
But not all overweight people develop diabetes.
“Your genetics loads the gun, and your life style pulls the trigger,” she said.
If worldwide trends continue, the projections are discouraging, especially for China, India and the U.S. According to the CDC, one out of every three people in the world could have diabetes by the year 2050.