Killer disease

  • 14/05/2004
  • WHO

Killer disease Obesity has become a worldwide concern because people in each and every nation are falling prey to it. WHO defines obesity as a body mass index (BMI) of at least 30 kg/m2 and overweight as a BMI of at least 25 kg/m2 (BMI is calculated by weight in kg divided by the square of a person’s height in metre). Around one billion adults in the world are overweight and around 300 million of them are obese.

Diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, gallbladder ailments, cancer, psycho-social problems, breathlessness, sleep disorders, asthma, arthritis, weak bones and reproductive hormone abnormalities are just some of the NCDs which are more likely to affect obese and overweight people. WHO’s surveillance of risk factors (SuRF) report, which came out in 2003, says diet, lack of physical activity and obesity are common risk factors for NCDs. The World Health Report 2003 says that in all continents except Africa more people die of NCDs than communicable diseases. WHO estimates that by 2020, 73 per cent of all deaths will be caused by NCDs.

The governments of several developing countries like India claim that obesity and NCDs aren’t their problems. But the fact is NCDs are increasing even in developing countries (see table: No place safe). Of the 16.6 million people who died of cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) all around the world in 2001, around 80 per cent were from low- and middle-income countries. It’s feared that by 2010, CVDs would be the leading cause of death in developing counties. India, China, Indonesia, Pakistan and Brazil are among the top 10 countries affected by diabetes. At least 19.4 million Indians had diabetes in 1995 and the number rose to 31.5 million in 2000.

No place safe
Death caused by communicable and non-communicable diseases (Figures multiplied by 1,000)
Country Communicable
Non communicable
Africa 7,779 2,252
The Americas 875 4,543
Eastern Mediterranean 1,746 2,030
Europe 567 8,112
South East Asia 5,730 7,423
West Pacific 1,701 9,000
Source: Presentation by Robert Beaglehole, director, health promotion, surveillance, prevention and management of ncds, who. Presentation based on World Health Report 2003
The situation is no better in rich nations. The number of people who die because of reasons linked to obesity has doubled in Canada in 15 years. Approximately 2,79 000 people died in the European Union (EU) in 1997 due to problems caused by excess weight and obesity, says a study done by the department of preventive medicine and public health, School of Medicine, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, Madrid.

In the US obesity has doubled in the last 20 years and now affects one in three adults (see box: Catching them young). Obesity and inactivity could soon overtake tobacco as the leading cause of preventable deaths in the US, says a study, which came out in March 2004 and was done by the country’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A 20-year-old obese man’s life expectancy in the US is reduced by 13 years, says a study, which used data collected over three decades. A 20-year-old obese woman’s life expectancy is reduced by eight years, says the same study.

Obesity is one of the key causes for a 50-per cent increase in disability rates in the US in the last two decades, says the RAND Corporation, a think tank and research group. A study by the group says obesity rates and disability cases in the US increased during this period. The number of disability cases attributed to musculoskeletal problems like chronic backache, which is linked to obesity, also grew rapidly during the period.

Paying for the fat
This massive obesity epidemic is eating up the money countries spend on healthcare, and it’s also wasting their human resources. Industrialised countries could be spending 2-7 per cent of their healthcare on obesity. United Kingdom in 1998 spent

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