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NZ has highest rates of obesity in Australasia

New Zealand has highest rates of adult and child obesity in Australasia

Rates of being either overweight or obese have climbed among New Zealanders since 1980, according to a new, first-of-its-kind analysis of trend data from 188 countries.

The adult overweight and obesity rate in the country is 66%, up from 50% during the past 33 years. Among children in New Zealand, 29% are either obese or overweight, up from 18% in just over three decades.

The research, to be published in prominent medical journal The Lancet on 29 May, was conducted by an international consortium of researchers led by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington. The study is part of the wide-ranging Global Burden of Disease project.

It has found that an estimated 2.2 million adults in New Zealand are overweight, and of these, 960,000 are obese. Within the Australasia region, (Australia and New Zealand) New Zealand has the highest rate of obesity in both adults (29%) and children (9%).
Of the country’s men, 450,000 are obese and 510,000 women are obese. Half of all overweight women in New Zealand are obese. Obesity rates for women age 20 or older reached 30%, more than triple the obesity rates among girls (9%). Among boys, obesity climbed from about 10% in childhood and adolescence to almost 28% in adulthood.

According to AUT University’s Professor Valery Feigin, who co-authored the report, the statistics are concerning. “Being overweight is a well-established risk factor for stroke, heart attack, dementia and cancer – the four major causes of death and disability in New Zealand. Therefore, the fact that New Zealand has the highest rates of adult and child obesity in the region is very alarming. If this obesity epidemic is not stopped, we will suffer an increase in the burden of these most devastating disorders”, he says.

Professor Feigin adds, “The extent of the overweight and obesity epidemic gives us two particularly important insights. Firstly, that the current strategies for maintaining a healthy weight are not working and, secondly, that action is urgently needed at both a government and individual level.”

By age group, there are four different ranges with the greatest proportion of overweight or obese men—all at 79%: age 50 to 54, 60 to 64, 65 to 69, and 70 to 74. Women aged 65 to 69 are the most obese at 73%, but women aged 70 to 74 and 60 to 64 rank second, both at 71%. Boys 10 to 14 are the most overweight or obese at 33% and the same is true for girls also 10 to 14 at 31%.

When looking at obesity alone, Australasia experienced the largest absolute increase in adult obesity since 1980 (from 16% to 29%) and the single largest increase in adult female obesity (from 17% to 30%) globally.

“Obesity is an issue affecting people of all ages and incomes, everywhere,” said Dr. Christopher Murray, director of IHME and a co-founder of the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) study. “In the last three decades, not one country has achieved success in reducing obesity rates, and we expect obesity to rise steadily as incomes rise in low and middle-income countries in particular, unless urgent steps are taken to address this public health crisis.”

Globally, while the percentage of people worldwide who are either overweight or obese has risen substantially over the last 30 years, there have been marked variations across regions and countries. In developed countries, increases in obesity that began in the 1980s and accelerated from 1992 to 2002 have slowed since 2006. Conversely, in developing countries, where almost two-thirds of the world’s obese people currently live, increases are likely to continue.

Between 1980 and 2013, the prevalence of overweight/obese children and adolescents globally increased by nearly 50%. In 2013, more than 22% of girls and nearly 24% of boys living in developed countries were found to be overweight or obese. Rates are also on the rise among children and adolescents in the developing world, where nearly 13% of boys and more than 13% of girls are overweight or obese. Particularly high rates of child and adolescent obesity were seen in Middle Eastern and North African countries, notably among girls.

Key findings:
· Today, 2.1 billion people – nearly one-third of the world’s population – are overweight or obese. The number of overweight and obese individuals in the world has increased from 857 million (20%) in 1980 to 2.1 billion (30%) in 2013.

· In high-income countries, some of the largest increases in adult obesity have been in the US (where one-third of adults are obese), Australia (where nearly 30% of men and women are obese), and the UK (where around a quarter of the adult population is obese).

· More than 50% of the world’s 671 million obese live in 10 countries (ranked beginning with the countries with the most obese people): US, China, India, Russia, Brazil, Mexico, Egypt, Germany, Pakistan, and Indonesia.

· Looking at individual countries, the highest proportion of the world’s obese people (13%) live in the US. China and India together represent 15% of the world’s obese population.

· The global rise in overweight and obesity represents a major public health epidemic in both the developed and the developing world.


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