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Trends in Adults Body-Mass Index: Imperative to Develop and Implement Policies to Address Obesity

on Sat, 04/02/2016 - 21:32

A recent study, published in The Lancet medical journal, calculated and compared body-mass index (BMI) among adult men and women from 1975 to 2014. BMI is a measure of a person’s weight for their height, and indicates whether their weight is healthy.

The research, which was led by scientists from Imperial College London, involved the World Health Organization and over 700 researchers across the globe, incorporated measurements of weight and height from nearly 20 million adults in most of the world’s countries. The research team has also created interactive visualizations that show the data from several perspectives, and made estimates available online here

The visualization reveals that in four decades global obesity among men has tripled - from 3.2% in 1975 to 10.8%. Obesity among women meanwhile has more than doubled, from 6.4 % in 1975 to 14.9% in 2014, which equates to 266 million obese men and 375 million obese women in the world in 2014. 

Based on predictive models, if these global trends continue, by 2025 16% of the world’s men and 19% of women will be obese. Furthermore, the probability of reaching the World Health Organization global obesity target (which aims for no rise in obesity above 2010 levels by 2025) will be close to zero.

Note to readers: The visualization is interactive, so don't hesitate to play and interact with it by using the selector located at the left-top (beneath the title) of the visualization, to select the World, a Region, or a Country to show data on the charts. You can also get detailed data point information by hovering the mouse over actual and/or predicted lines on the charts. Clicking on any legend element allows you to highlight content on the visualization.

The number of people who are underweight in different countries were examined. The results revealed levels have decreased from 14% to 9% in men, and 15% to 10% in women. The percentage of underweight individuals was nonetheless still quite high in countries such as India and Bangladesh, where nearly a quarter of adults are underweight.

Professor Ezzati added:

“Our research has shown that over 40 years we have transitioned from a world in which underweight prevalence was more than double that of obesity, to one in which more people are obese than underweight. Although it is reassuring that the number of underweight individuals has decreased over the last four decades, global obesity has reached crisis point.

Professor Majid Ezzati, the senior author of the study from the School of Public Health at Imperial College London, said:

“The number of people across the globe whose weight poses a serious threat to their health is greater than ever before. And this epidemic of severe obesity is too extensive to be tackled with medications such as blood pressure lowering drugs or diabetes treatments alone, or with a few extra bike lanes. We need coordinated global initiatives – such as looking at the price of healthy food compared to unhealthy food, or taxing high sugar and highly processed foods - to tackle this crisis.”



  1. NCD Risk Factor Collaboration (NCD RisC). Trends in adult body-mass index in 200 countries from 1975 to 2014: a pooled analysis of 1698 population-based measurement studies with 19·2 million participants. The Lancet. Volume 387, No. 10026, p1377–1396, 2 April 2016. Available online (accessed 2 April, 2016)
  2. NCD Risk Factor Collaboration (NCD RisC). Dataset: estimates of age-standardized prevalence of adult body-mass index in the world, regions, and 200 countries. Available online (accessed 2 April 2016) 

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Four Decades of Prevalence in Body-Mass Index Categories

This blog post presents an interactive data visualization on four decades (from 1975 to 2014) of prevalence in adult body-mass index (BMI) in the World and 200 countries. It supports the urgent call for developing and implementing policies and actions to stop the current trends in obesity.

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