The World

Is Global Obesity Peaking? 

A youth excercise class in Tonga, which has one of the world’s highest rates of obesity. 

Photo by Neil Sands/AFP/Getty Images

The Lancet has just published a new set of statistics on global obesity. The big headline is that the number of people who are obese or overweight in the world has topped 2.1 billion, up from 875 million in 1980. Much of that growth is coming from developing countries.

It’s not exactly news that the world is getting fatter, and that no country has yet been able to reverse this trend. But, intriguingly, the report also points out that the biggest growth in the prevalence of obesity took place between 1992 and 2002. Since then, it’s been slowing down: 

The Lancet

The authors write:

Evidence of a slowdown in the rate of increase of overweight and obesity in the developed world, and suggestions that obesity in more recent birth cohorts is lower than in previous birth cohorts at the same age, provides some hope that the epidemic might have peaked in developed countries and that populations in other countries might not reach the very high rates of more than 40% reported in some developing countries.

There’s not really data to say for sure yet, but perhaps at a certain level of economic growth, the relationship between affluence and weight gain—caused by more food intake, more prepared food, and less physical activity—starts to change. Or maybe there’s just a saturation point for how overweight a society can get.