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There Are Now More Obese People Than Underweight People In The World

People are less likely to be malnourished than they were 40 years ago, but the number of obese people is going up even more dramatically.

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A study has found that, for the first time, there are more obese people in the world than underweight ones. The research was published in The Lancet.

The percentage of people who are dangerously underweight has gone down pretty dramatically in the last 40 years.

BuzzFeed / The Lancet / Via thelancet.com

People are defined as "underweight", medically speaking, if they have a body mass index (BMI) of less than 18.5.

Your BMI is your weight in kilograms divided by the square of your height in metres.

That's obviously good news – it means fewer people are malnourished or starving. However, there is a flip side. At the same time, lots more people have become obese.

BuzzFeed / The Lancet / Via thelancet.com

Barely 1 person in 25 was obese – defined as having a BMI over 30 – in 1975. Now that figure is about 1 person in 7. BMI isn't a perfect measure of whether someone's obese, because it doesn't take into account whether their weight is due to fat or muscle. But it correlates well with the health problems.

As The Lancet notes, high BMI and obesity is linked with "cardiovascular and kidney diseases, diabetes, some cancers, and musculoskeletal disorders".

The drop in the proportion of underweight people has been significant, but there are still lots of people who are struggling to get enough to eat.

BuzzFeed / The Lancet / Via thelancet.com

And the countries that struggled in 1975 tend to be the ones who are struggling now. Most of them are in Southeast Asia and Africa.

BuzzFeed / The Lancet / Via thelancet.com

And the countries that struggled in 1975 tend to be the ones who are struggling now. Most of them are in Southeast Asia and Africa.

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BuzzFeed / The Lancet / Via thelancet.com

And the countries that struggled in 1975 tend to be the ones who are struggling now. Most of them are in Southeast Asia and Africa.

The increase in obesity, though, has been much more dramatic.

BuzzFeed / The Lancet / Via thelancet.com

The Lancet says men in rich, English-speaking countries such as the UK, the US, and Australia put on the most weight, along with women in Latin America.

The South Pacific island nations were already the heaviest in 1975, and remain so today, with American Samoa topping the charts at 52% obese.

BuzzFeed / The Lancet / Via thelancet.com

The Lancet says men in rich, English-speaking countries such as the UK, the US, and Australia put on the most weight, along with women in Latin America.

The South Pacific island nations were already the heaviest in 1975, and remain so today, with American Samoa topping the charts at 52% obese.

← Slide →
BuzzFeed / The Lancet / Via thelancet.com

The Lancet says men in rich, English-speaking countries such as the UK, the US, and Australia put on the most weight, along with women in Latin America.

The South Pacific island nations were already the heaviest in 1975, and remain so today, with American Samoa topping the charts at 52% obese.

Obesity is only likely to become more prevalent, and malnutrition is still a major problem in large parts of the world.

The Lancet says that "if these trends continue, by 2025, global obesity prevalence will reach 18% in men and surpass 21% in women". Efforts to reduce the problem haven't worked. At the same time, the focus on obesity has distracted attention from the still very real problems of malnutrition elsewhere in the world.

Tom Chivers is a science writer for BuzzFeed and is based in London.

Contact Tom Chivers at tom.chivers@buzzfeed.com.

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