Almost a third of the world is now fat, and no country has been able to curb obesity rates in the past three decades, according to a new global analysis. South Carolina isn't in any better shape.
Researchers found more than 2 billion people worldwide are now overweight or obese. The highest rates were in the Middle East and North Africa, where nearly 60 percent of men and 65 percent of women are heavy. The U.S. has about 13 percent of the world's fat population, a greater percentage than any other country. China and India combined have about 15 percent.
"It's pretty grim," said Christopher Murray of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, who led the study. He and colleagues reviewed more than 1,700 studies covering 188 countries from 1980 to 2013. "When we realized that not a single country has had a significant decline in obesity, that tells you how hard a challenge this is."
Murray said there was a strong link between income and obesity; in developing countries, as people get richer, their waistlines also tend to start bulging. In many rich countries like the U.S. and Britain, the trend is reversed, though only slightly. Murray said scientists have noticed accompanying spikes in diabetes as obesity has risen and that rates of cancers linked to weight, like pancreatic cancer, are also rising.
In South Carolina, the numbers are more startling: 31.6 percent of the population are obese and 34.5 percent are overweight, according the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control. The state consistently ranks in the 10 most overweight in the country. And that's got experts worried.
"It bodes ill," said Patrick O'Neil, director of the Weight Management Center at the Medical University of South Carolina. "Obviously, we will be seeing increases in the rates of conditions associated with obesity, particularly type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease."
O'Neil, a past president of the Obesity Society, a North American scientific and professional organization dedicated to combating obesity, said major culprits of growing waistlines are the same in South Carolina as anywhere else: easily accessible high-calorie foods and increasingly sedentary lifestyles, among others.
The new report was paid for by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and published online Thursday in the journal, Lancet.
The World Health Organization recently established a high-level commission tasked with ending childhood obesity.
"Our children are getting fatter," Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO's director-general, said bluntly during a speech at the agency's annual meeting in Geneva. "Parts of the world are quite literally eating themselves to death." Earlier this year, WHO said that no more than 5 percent of your daily calories should come from sugar.
Childhood obesity is also a serious issue in South Carolina, where 15.2 percent of youth ages 2 to 17 are overweight and 19.9 percent are obese, according to South Carolina DHEC.
"When you think of children who are overweight or obese, and you look at diseases that are prevalent in our society, a lot of that is preventable if we focus on our diet and healthy living," said Beth Franco, executive director of Eat Smart, Move More South Carolina. "It's going to take a lot of work, but it can be done. If we don't, our children are not going to live as long as their parents."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.