People are plumping up at such a rate that by 2025 roughly a fifth of the human race will be obese, experts have warned.
Over a period of 40 years from 1975 to 2014 the number of men and women in the world classified as obese soared from 105m to 641m, research shows.
With each passing decade, the average person had become 1.5kg heavier.
If this trend continues, 18% of men and 21% of women worldwide will be obese by 2025, scientists predict. More than 6% of men and 9% of women will be severely obese and putting their health at risk.
The clinical definition of obese is a Body Mass Index (BMI), a measurement that relates weight and height, of 30kg per m sq.
The new analysis of BMI trends, published in The Lancet medical journal, shows that since the 1970s average BMI around the world increased from 21.7 to 24.2.
The higher figure is just below the BMI threshold of 25 where a person is considered to be “overweight”.
In 2014 China had the largest number of obese people in the world — 43.2m men and 46.4m women. Chinese men accounted for 16.3% of global obesity and women 12.4%.
Next in the obesity league table was the US, with 41.7m men and 46.1m women. They accounted for 15.7% and 12.3% of the world’s obese individuals, respectively.
UK men, 6.8m of whom were obese in 2014, took eighth place in the table while British obese women, who numbered 7.7m, ranked 11th.
Britain had the third highest average BMI in Europe for women (27kg per m sq) and the 10th highest for men (24.4kg per m sq).
Men in the Republic of Ireland, Cyprus, and Malta had the highest average male BMI in Europe, 27.8 kg per m sq.
Professor Majid Ezzati, from Imperial College London, who led the research based on pooled data from almost 1,700 population studies and 186 countries, said: “Over the past 40 years, we have changed from a world in which underweight prevalence was more than double that of obesity to one in which more people are obese than underweight.
“If present trends continue, not only will the world not meet the obesity target of halting the rise in the prevalence of obesity at its 2010 level by 2025, but more women will be severely obese than underweight by 2025.
“To avoid an epidemic of severe obesity, new policies that can slow down and stop the worldwide increase in body weight must be implemented quickly and rigorously evaluated, including smart food policies and improved healthcare training.”
Despite the trend, excessively low body weight remained a serious public health issue in the world’s poorest regions.
In southern Asia, almost a quarter of the population were still underweight, and in central and east Africa more than 15% of men and 12% of women weighed too little.
Writing in the journal, Professor George Davey Smith stressed the importance of not letting obesity divert attention away from poor nutrition.
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