New data exposes the deadliest pandemic of our time

I hate to “bore” you with statistics. But every now and again, they’re important enough that I have to. And today is going to be one of those days.

But the truth is, there’s nothing boring about the numbers I recently came across. Quite the opposite, actually. They stunned me. And I suspect you might feel the same way.

So let me start from the top, and go from there: Researchers have concluded that almost 30 percent of the global population is either obese or overweight.

That’s right. We’re talking about nearly a third of the people in the entire world. More than two billion, according The Lancet, which recently published this brand-new analysis. It featured data from 188 countries, in total.

This was the first study of its kind, and it revealed more than a few sad truths about the obesity crisis. Like the fact that not a single country has been able to control it. These numbers are up from just 857 million back in 1980.

Here are a few more relevant findings from the study:

  • Global overweight and obesity rates are up 8 percent among adult men and women.
  • The highest proportion of obese people (13 percent, to be specific) live in the U.S.
  • Middle Eastern, North African, Central American, Pacific, and Caribbean nations now also have sky-high obesity rates. (Believe it or not, some countries have reached 44 percent or higher.)
  • Last year, the Middle East and North Africa had the highest rates of overweight and obesity—affecting more than 58 percent of men and 65 percent of women over the age of 20. Central America came in a very close second—with the highest rates found in Colombia, Costa Rica, and Mexico.
  • The saddest news is that the obesity crisis is hitting young people hard, too—increasing by almost 50 percent in the past few decades. Last year, nearly a quarter of kids living in developed countries were either overweight or obese.

This is an enormous public health issue. So I’m truly shocked by the fact that no one else seems particularly alarmed by it.

In fact, here in the U.S., Americans have simply accepted it as the new status quo. It’s as if we completely skipped over having discussions about how to stop it, and went straight to talking about how to accommodate it.

I was watching ‘Nurse Jackie’ the other evening, and in the episode, an obese woman came into the emergency room but couldn’t fit into the wheelchair. The patient then needed to be taken to another hospital that could accommodate a person of a larger size in the CT scanner.

This was one fictional patient on one fictional TV show. But I assure you that this very thing is happening at real hospitals in this country right now. And while patients of any size have a right to effective, compassionate medical care, it’s clear that simply building bigger equipment is not a solution to this problem.

Imagine you live in a developing nation and you can’t send a patient crosstown to another facility. What if there wasn’t another wheelchair to use?

Believe me, I have worked in hospitals in some scary parts of the globe—where there were barely sheets on the bed, let alone the luxury of over-sized hospital components. It’s ridiculous to think that the obesity crisis won’t affect areas that simply don’t have the resources to adapt to it. As this new study shows, it’s already starting to.

So what in the world is happening here? Are people afraid to tackle their deepest, darkest fears? Or are public health officials simply in denial?

I don’t know how many times I have to say it, but this isn’t about vanity—this is about health. This planet will be up to its eyeballs in heart disease, diabetes, and cancer if we can’t find a way to stop eating ourselves to death.

Obesity affects everyone, directly or indirectly—and across all ages and income levels. Not even the famous (or perhaps infamous) 1% is immune. And, as developing nations become more developed, obesity is only going to continue to rise. And it will crush all of us.

The most maddening part is that there IS a cure. It’s just that I seem to be the only one who wants to talk about it.


Global, regional, and national prevalence of overweight and obesity in children and adults during 1980-2013: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013. Lancet. 2014 May 28. pii: S0140-6736(14)60460-8.