Epidemiology of Obesity

Epidemiology of Obesity


According to the data collected by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2008, among 1.5 billion people, about 25% were overweight, while about 0.5 million  (or close to 8.5%) were obese. A report in 2007 stated that, on average, 34.5% of Americans were obese, including 33% of men and 36% of women (World Health Organization, 2013). These statistics were just estimates from various sources indicating different figures. Currently, however, most figures prove a higher prevalence of obesity among the global population. Distinct trends have prompted the emergence of the global epidemiology of people’s obesity, considering different trends such as race, geography, economic prosperity, food distribution, and intake, which play significant roles in determining the probability of becoming obese. In addition, certain diseases, such as diabetes and Disruptive Sleep Apnea, have been associated with obesity (Ogden, Carroll, Kit, and Flegal, 2012). This paper will analyze the roots and consequences of the epidemiology of obesity and attempt to distinguish what reductive effects it has.

Health, Weight, and Obesity

Health is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as the state of complete well-being mentally, physically, and spiritually. The environment, mainly the state of the air, water, and living conditions, is a key determinant of individual and social health. According to the WHO, other health determinants are social and economic environments, individual behavior, and physical environment (World Health Organization, 2013). Considering that food security situations become better and lifestyle changes that lead to less physical activity, more and more people throughout the world face the risk of becoming overweight, while an increasingly large number of people are becoming obese (Shick, Wing, Klem, McGuire, Hill and Seagle, 1998).

Body Mass Index (BMI) is a mathematical term used to show an individual’s weight-to-height relationship and is used to determine if one is overweight, underweight, normal weight, or obese. BMI is computed as the body mass in kilograms divided by the square of one’s height in meters (Flegal, Carroll, Ogden, and Curtin, 2010). Different health organizations and scholarly bodies differ slightly in the range of BMI numbers considering the classifications of healthy, underweight, overweight, or obese. In the most general sense, BMI less than 18 is considered underweight. An index between 19 and 24 is considered normal, between 25 and 29 is considered overweight, and BMI higher than 29 is obese. The obese category is further split into classes I, II, and III. Class I has BMI between 30 and 35, class II is between 36 and 40, and class III has BMI above 40.

Obesity is a state of excessive body fat that results, in many instances, from lack of exercise and a high intake of fatty food. Few cases occur where it may be caused by genetic problems, certain medications, and certain mental diseases. In its most usual form, obesity is marked by the emergence of extreme fat deposits in the various body areas, especially in the belly areas, back, thighs, arms, and sometimes in the lower legs of an individual (World Health Organization, 2013). As a result of the excessive size, obese individuals may have difficulties with walking, running, or doing any other activity involving muscular endurance.

Background of Child Obesity

Studies in the history of human development have proven that obesity was far less prevalent among early humans than it is today. Scholars have estimated relatively harder and more enduring lifestyles of early humans hindered them from becoming obese. This statement is supported by the fact that the prevalence of disease correlates with the variety of available food and shifts towards a more sedentary lifestyle. In addition, the obesity trends have shown a gradual increase in the figures documented in the mid-20th century and today, suggesting that earlier figures might have been even less. Greek history is perhaps the first documented incident showing people’s consciousness and outlook toward obesity. The Greek scholar and medical practitioner Hippocrates wrote that obesity was not only a disease but an attraction to many others. Other studies show that obesity was related to diabetes and heart disease before 6 BCE (Shick et al., 1998).

As communities developed and settlements were established, people generally traveled less and began farming. The beginning of farming perhaps marked the first major step towards food security and varieties of available food. Food rich in calories is a primary cause of weight gain in certain other cases. The settlement also led to a rapid population increase, leading to rising periods in which existing food reserves could not sustain the rapidly expanding population. In the middle ages, thus, malnutrition was prevalent in most regions on earth, a condition attributed to a lack of sufficient and balanced food. During these periods, it might be expected that few cases of obesity were reported, except in families that could afford sufficient and significant food (typically ruling class and noble families), leading to the misconception that obesity was desirable and synonymous with richness. This thought is still common in developing nations where food security is unachieved (Shick et al., 1998).

The industrial revolution was the next significant period in people’s lifestyles, which prompted immigration into cities and industrial centers, especially in the 15th-19th centuries. The industrial revolution ultimately resulted in increased income, better living conditions, better health facilities, and more sedentary lifestyles. This era mostly marked in the late 19th century and continuing to date, has seen the most robust epidemiology of obesity as an undesirable phenomenon and the corresponding mitigation mechanism. Today, most people are aware of the dangers associated with obesity. However, the incidences of obesity in developed countries remain high (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2010). The section below will discuss the history of medicinal review of obesity, as well as the discovery of predisposing factors of obesity.

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