MONDAY, Oct. 22 (HealthDay News) -- Worldwide, 40 percent of men and 30 percent of women are now overweight, and 24 percent of men and 27 percent of women are obese, say researchers who looked at data from 63 countries.
The study included information on more than 168,000 men and women ages 18-80 (average age 48), living on five continents. All of them were evaluated by their family doctors.
The findings are published in this week's issue of the journal Circulation.
"The study results show that excess body weight is pandemic, with one-half to two-thirds of the overall study population being overweight or obese," lead author Beverley Balkau, director of research at INSERM in France, said in a prepared statement. INSERM is the French equivalent of the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
She noted that obesity has become a major clinical and public health problem in many countries.
The data collected from the International Day for Evaluation of Abdominal Obesity also found that 56 percent of men and 71 percent of women had abdominal adiposity (excess fat), which significantly increases the risk of developing heart disease and diabetes.
In this study, abdominal adiposity was determined by measuring waist circumference.
"For men, each increase (in waist circumference) of approximately 5.5 inches (14 centimeters) means an increased frequency of about 35 percent for heart disease and for women an increase of approximately six inches (15 centimeters) equates to a 40 percent increase for heart disease. Even in people who are lean, an increasing waist circumference means increasing risk for heart disease and diabetes," Balkau said.
Rates of obesity -- a body mass index of 30 or more -- varied between regions, ranging from a low of 7 percent in men and women in South and East Asia to 36 percent in Canadian men and women, the study found.
Other findings from the study:
- Overall frequency of heart disease was 16 percent in men and 13 percent in women.
- Eastern Europe had high rates of heart disease (27 percent in men, 24 percent in women), while Canada had low rates (16 percent in men, 8 percent in women).
- Overall, 13 percent of men and 11 percent of women had diabetes.
Governments need to take more preventive measures -- such as encouraging people to exercise and providing more access to physical activity -- in order to halt rising rates of overweight and obesity, Balkau said.
"Physical activity and good nutrition are key. A change is needed or the public health situation for heart disease and diabetes will become worse," she warned.
The U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases outlines the health risks of being overweight.
SOURCE: American Heart Association, news release, Oct. 22, 2007