The world’s population is still increasing, albeit at a slower rate than ever before. There are still hundreds of millions of people in dire poverty who have very little to eat. But the numbers of the desperately malnourished are receding both in absolute terms and as a proportion of the population. As we have blogged about before, humanity has made incredible strides in the last few decades in expanding our ability to feed everyone on the planet. Indeed, the problem of hunger nowadays throughout the world is very much a political, rather than an agricultural or production one.

And, as it turns out, for the wealthier 35 countries of the OECD, it is rates of obesity that is increasing. Combined with a sedentary lifestyle, it is a surfeit of (often trashy) food that is leading to exponential rises in obesity levels. According to the latest 2017 reports by OECD countries obesity is affecting people of either sex, all ages, all ethnicities and also all education and income levels. Across the OECD as a whole, 54 per cent of the population is overweight (according to body mass index measures) and 19 per cent is obese. (Overweight means a BMI of over 25kg/m2 and obese means over 30kg/m2.)

When it comes to the individual countries in the OECD, the least overweight/obese countries are Japan, Korea and Italy, while the most overweight/obese are Mexico, Hungary, the USA and New Zealand (hurrah! New Zealand got a mention!) Interestingly, there is no discernible difference between men and women – 19 per cent of men and 20 per cent of women are obese.

When it comes to the rate of increase, Italy and Japan have stable obesity rates at the moment. However, the obesity rates have grown extremely quickly in other countries over the last twenty years or so. The United Kingdom’s obesity rate has climbed 92 per cent since the 1990s, the USA has gone up by 65 per cent, while Korea’s and Norway’s obesity rate has doubled during that time.

Perhaps more alarmingly is the rise of large numbers of overweight and obese children. Not only does childhood obesity put children at risk of future ailments, but it also affects mental and physical growth, hormonal balance, psycho-social health, heart and lung health etc. Among the OECD countries, the average rate of overweight and obese children is 25 percent. The report notes that the major causes of childhood obesity are an unhealthy diet and a lack of physical activity – you know, the obvious causes. 

Marcus Roberts is a Senior Researcher at the Maxim Institute in Auckland, New Zealand, and was co-editor of the former MercatorNet blog, Demography is Destiny. Marcus has a background in the law, both...