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Six weighty figures to watch: The SA and global obesity epidemic in numbers

Numbers don’t lie: A new report shows how people across the world keep piling on the kilos.

Overweight or obese people now outnumber those who are undernourished by nearly two and a half times, according to the McKinsey Global Institute.

Like wasting, being overweight is generally considered a form of malnutrition.

Here are the numbers that matter from the latest Global Nutrition Report, which was released last week. The report gives an independent overview of the state of the world’s nutrition. 

1. South Africa

More than half of South African adults (53%) are overweight or obese — the highest rate in sub-Saharan Africa. Globally, South Africa ranks 88th of 190 countries for its prevalence of overweight and obese adults (with the island country of Palau, in the Pacific Ocean, at number 190 with a rate of 79.3%).

Some studies have found South Africa to be even worse off: according to a 2014 Lancet report, seven out of 10 women and four out of 10 men are overweight or obese.

2. United States

In North America, 29‑million adults are obese, up from 27‑million in 2010. 
More than two-thirds (67.3%) of United States adults are overweight or obese, placing it 171st on the global ranking list. Its neighbour, Canada, is battling similar numbers: it’s ranked 166th, with a 64.4% prevalence of overweight or obese adults.

3. Africa’s children are getting fatter

A quarter of the world’s overweight children live in Africa.

The number of African children younger than five who are overweight has doubled from five million in 1990 to 10‑million in 2014. Asia has the largest number of overweight children, increasing from 16‑million in 2010 to 20‑million in 2014. 

Out of the 667‑million children worldwide, 41‑million are overweight. 

4. Diabetes and high blood glucose

In Africa, 9.4‑million adults have raised blood glucose, the second-highest number behind Asia, with a figure of 9.7‑million.

One in 12 adults in the world has type 2 diabetes. Being overweight is a primary risk factor for type 2 diabetes, according to US medical research organisation the Mayo Clinic. “The more fatty tissue you have, the more resistant your cells become to insulin,” the clinic states on its website. 

5. Obesity costs money

In the US, a household with just one obese person faces additional annual healthcare bills amounting to 8% of its annual income. In China, people diagnosed with diabetes lose 16.3% of their annual income.

Malnutrition and diet are the number one drivers of the global burden of disease. 
Annual gross domestic product losses from low weight, poor child growth and micronutrient deficiencies average 11% in Asia and Africa. This is greater than the losses incurred in the 2008-2010 global financial crisis. 

6. Fighting obesity pays

Every $1 spent on proven nutrition programmes offers benefits worth $16.

Investing in nutrition is one of the most cost-effective steps governments can take, the Global Nutrition Report argues. The economic arguments for investing in nutrition are being adopted by mainstream economists and it is now seen as a means to spur economic growth.

Adri Kotze is a senior investigative journalist and Bhekisisa's former Africa editor. Follow her on Twitter @adrikotze.