New research suggests 76 percent of the world’s population is overfat
Just in time for those making New Year’s resolutions, a new study suggests up to 76 percent of the world’s population is overfat. This amounts to an astonishing 5.5 billion people — and includes many people who regularly exercise.
The new study, published Jan 3, 2017 in the journal Frontiers of Public Health, describes a hidden pandemic of people who are overfat — defined as having sufficient excess body fat to impair health.
“The overfat pandemic has not spared those who exercise or even compete in sports,” says lead author of the study Dr. Philip Maffetone, who collaborated with research assistant Ivan Rivera, and Professor Paul Laursen, adjunct at the Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand.
In addition to most of those who are overweight and obese, others falling into the overfat category include normal-weight people with increased abdominal fat, and those with a condition called “normal-weight metabolic obesity” — with those who exercise regularly falling into one or more of these categories.
While the obesity epidemic has grown considerably over the last three to four decades, this study casts light on the much higher numbers of people who may have unhealthy levels of body fat.
In addition, 9 to 10 percent of the world population may be underfat. While we may think of this condition as being due to starvation, worldwide these numbers are actually dropping rapidly. However, an aging population, an increase in chronic disease and a rising number of excessive exercisers — those with anorexia athletica — are adding to the number of non-starving underfat individuals.
This leaves as little as 14 percent of the world’s population with normal body-fat percentage.
This is a global concern because of its strong association with rising chronic disease and climbing healthcare costs, affecting people of all ages and incomes.
The study also brings to light that new terminology — specifically the term “overfat” — is important to replace the old notions of “overweight” and “obese.” While it’s estimated that up to 49 percent of the world’s population, or 3.5 billion people, are obese or overweight, the well-documented obesity epidemic may merely be the tip of the overfat iceberg, the authors state.
The term overfat, as opposed to obesity and overweight, may be more helpful moving forward in addressing this global health problem. More precise terminology tends to have downstream positive effects on helping those in healthcare and the public to address the causes of excess body fat.
Other major points of the new research include:
- The traditional body-mass index (BMI) measures the relationship between weight and height, but is not a direct measure of body fat.
- Waist circumference may be a more practical solution than the bathroom scale for clinical identification of metabolic health issues.
- This is the first study to globally quantify those who are overfat versus overweight/obese.