British Journal of Nutrition

Research Article

Obesity, insulin resistance and diabetes — a worldwide epidemic

Jacob C. Seidella1 c1

a1 Department of Chronic Diseases Epidemiology National Institute of Public Health and the Environment, PO Box 1, 3720 BA Bilthoven, and Institute for Research in Extramural Medicine, Free University Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Abstract

Obesity is now commonly defined in adults as a BMI > 30 kg/m2. The prevalence of obesity in established market economies (Europe, USA, Canada, Australia, etc.) varies greatly, but a weighed estimate suggests an average prevalence in the order of 15–20 %. The prevalence in these countries generally shows increasing trends over time. Obesity is also relatively common in Latin America, but much less so in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia where the majority of the world population lives. Nevertheless obesity rates are increasing there as well and, more importantly, rates of diabetes are increasing even more quickly, particularly in Asian countries. The risks of type 2 diabetes mellitus in these countries tend to increase sharply at levels of BMI generally classified as acceptable in European and North American white people. There have been suggestions to adopt specific classifications of obesity in Asians (e.g. BMI 23 for overweight and 25 or 27 kg/m2 for obesity) and this will greatly affect the prevalence estimates of obesity worldwide (currently at about 250 million people). Particularly for health promotion purposes BMI may be replaced by a classification based on waist circumference, but also specific classifications for different ethnic groups may be necessary. The number of diabetics has been projected to increase from 135 million in 1995 to 300 million in 2025. Much of this increase will be seen in Asia. In summary, both obesity and type 2 diabetes are common consequences of changing lifestyles (increased sedentary lifestyles and increased energy density of diets). Both are potentially preventable through lifestyle modification on a population level, but this requires a coherent and multifaceted strategy. Such strategies are not developed or implemented. These developments point toward the great urgency to develop global and national plans for adequate prevention and management of obesity and type 2 diabetes mellitus.

Correspondence:

c1 *Corresponding author: J. C. Seidell, fax +31 30 274 4407, email j.seidell@rivm.nl

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