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American Demographics Report

U.S. Population Weighs in as the World's Most Obese

America Is Home to Nearly 23% of Planet's Excessively Overweight Individuals

By Published on .

LOS ANGELES (AdAge.com) -- It's not a small world, after all. One-third of the global population aged 15 or older is overweight
The U.S. is the world leader in obesity.
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audio bug World Obesity by Country
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or obese, according to an American Demographics analysis.

World leader
Not surprisingly, the U.S. is the world leader: The U.S. is home to nearly 23% of the world's obese population aged 15 or older, according to the analysis.

The global perception is that fat-and-happy U.S. consumers lead the way on these weighty matters. American Demographics aimed to prove, or disprove, the point by analyzing the World Health Organization's 2005 obesity projections and Census Bureau global population data.

As it turns out, the U.S. share of the merely overweight (about 7%) isn't that out of line with its share of world population (less than 5%).

Obesity epidemic
The problem is an epidemic of obesity, with more Americans joining the ranks of the officially obese as determined by body mass index, which measures weight in relation to height. "Overweight" means a BMI of 25 up to 30; "obese" is 30 or above.

To be sure, BMI is not a perfect measure. For example, a 200-lb. body builder who stands at 5'10" has a BMI of 29, and would be considered borderline obese, despite having far more muscle than fat. However, those cases are the rare exceptions to the rule, and BMI, which dates to the 1800s, remains the standard for governments.

U.S. males aged 15 or older last year had a mean BMI of 28.4, according to WHO. Women's average was 28.8. For adults of average height in the U.S., a man is considered obese at 196 pounds; a woman at 174 pounds.

U.S. getting fatter
The nation is getting fatter. U.S. government surveys show the average U.S. adult man aged 20-74 weighs 191 pounds and the average woman weighs 164, both up about 24 pounds (or 96 Quarter Pounders) from the early 1960s. About three-fourths of Americans aged 15+ in the U.S. were overweight or obese in 2005, with about four in 10 obese, according to WHO.

The U.S. share of obesity, with 22.6% of the world's fattest residents age 15+, is far above the 5.3% share of runner-up Mexico, according to American Demographics' analysis.

The analysis found 1.6 billion overweight people age 15+ worldwide last year (34.5% of that population), including 400 million clinically obese.

WHO's estimate
That's far above WHO's estimate last year of more than 1 billion overweight people globally. American Demographics based its calculations on WHO '05 projections of prevalence for overweight and obesity in its 192 member countries, using '05 Census Bureau population data.

WHO declined to comment on American Demographics' figures because WHO, part of the United Nations, based its estimates on U.N. population data. "These models have many underlying assumptions which will not be the same as the [Census] population data," a spokeswoman said.

The American Demographics analysis excluded children, whose weight is scored differently from the simple BMI formula.

Global diet shift
There's no denying the world is getting bigger. The causes WHO cites are a replay of what happened in the U.S.: "A global shift in diet toward increased energy, fat, salt and sugar intake, and a trend toward decreased physical activity."

Across 192 nations, WHO's mean BMI 2005 projection for males 15+ was 24.4, according to American Demographics calculations; for females, it was 25.3, past the tipping point for overweight.

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