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Across the world, obesity rates have doubled in the past 30 years

(RxWiki News) Obesity rates have almost doubled in the past 30 years, according to a new study that looks at heart-disease risk factors and how those factors have changed during that time.

The study from the School of Public Health at Imperial College, London, analyzes changing trends in body mass index, blood pressure and cholesterol levels to form a picture of modest progress in certain countries in spite of spiraling obesity rates.

The proportion of people suffering with uncontrolled hypertension -- or blood pressure consistently over 140 mmHg (systolic, top number) and 90 mmHg (diastolic, bottom number) -- decreased modestly between 1980 and 2008, but because of population growth and an aging population, the number of people with uncontrolled hypertension actually rose from 600 million in 1980 to almost 1 billion in 2008.

Cholesterol levels proportionally fell between 1980 and 2008 in Western areas, including North America and some parts of Europe. Western European countries such as Greenland, Iceland, Andorra and Germany hold the highest cholesterol levels in the world, with mean serum total cholesterol of about 5.5 mmol/L. African countries had the lowest cholesterol rates with 4 mmol/L.

The study found that 9.8 percent of the men and 13.8 percent of women worldwide were obese in 2008, according to body-mass index (BMI) figures. BMI is calculated using a person's weight and height, and indicates whether a person is underweight, normal, overweight or obese. In 1980, those figures were 4.8 percent for men and 7.9 percent for women.

Professor Majid Ezzati, lead author of the study, said obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol are no longer strictly Western problems or problems of wealthy nations, but have spread to low and middle-income countries, making these health issues global concerns.

Obesity not only increases risk of heart disease, but is also linked to depression, diabetes and cancer.

The study appears in the journal Lancet.

Review Date: 
February 7, 2011