Future Trends in Global Obesity

obesity chart1 Future Trends in Global Obesity

A couple of weeks ago, the OECD (Organisaton for Economic Co-operation and Development) released a working paper entitled:

The Obesity Epidemic: Analysis of Past and Projected Future Trends in Selected OECD Countries

In that paper, the OECD has brought together the most accurate data on the current state of obesity in its member countries.

For those of you interested in health, obesity and staring at pages and pages of graphs and charts, prepare to enjoy.

And for those of us who aren’t so graph-inclined, I have taken it upon myself to crunch the numbers for you.

And what I found most interesting was that there was an obvious difference in the obesity trends between one group of countries and a second group of countries.

Group #1

Group #1 consists of Australia, Canada, England and the United States.

I grouped these four countries together because they represent phase 1 of the globalization of the Western Diet.

The people of these countries were the first to:

  • Replace real food with junk food
  • Replace water with Coca Cola
  • Replace whole grains with Wonder bread
  • Replace walkable communities with SUV required suburbs

As a result of their early adoption of this lifestyle, their current and future levels of obesity are much different than the other countries surveyed by the OECD.

If you look at the graphs below, you will see that:

  1. Group 1 countries can expect a substantial further increase in obesity.
  2. Conversely, the percentage of simply overweight citizens should level off or even decline.

A closer look at the statistics from these countries shows that the “numbers of individuals in the lower sections of the overweight range have been decreasing sharply in these countries, while numbers of individuals in the upper section of the overweight range have been increasing.”

These changes are projected to broadly offset each other, leading to stable or slightly decreasing overweight rates.

So, what do all of these numbers mean?

It means that in these countries, the chubby population is disappearing. Overweight people are either getting fit and dropping back down into the healthy weight category, or graduating to full fledged obesity or even morbid obesity.

Maybe the animators at Pixar had it right?

wall e images Future Trends in Global Obesity

Obesity Trends – Group #1


United States of America

oecd obesity projections usa Future Trends in Global Obesity

Obesity trends - USA


oecd obesity projections canada Future Trends in Global Obesity

Obesity trends - Canada


oecd obesity projections england Future Trends in Global Obesity

Obesity trends - England


oecd obesity projections australia2 Future Trends in Global Obesity

Group #2

Unlike Group #1, the obesity rates for Group #2 countries are projected to grow at a relatively slow pace.

However, their overweight rates are expected to increase at a much faster pace…especially South Korea.

Why the difference?

Even though there is not enough data to conclusively prove it, the general assumption is that Group #2 countries are simply at an earlier stage in the progression of obesity caused by the Western Diet/Lifestyle.

They are simply becoming overweight as a precursor to their evolution into full blown obesity.

Obesity Trends – Group #2



oecd obesity projections france Future Trends in Global Obesity

Obesity trends - France


oecd obesity projections italy Future Trends in Global Obesity

Obesity trends - Italy


oecd obesity projections austria Future Trends in Global Obesity

Obesity trends - Austria

South Korea

oecd obesity projections korea Future Trends in Global Obesity

Obesity trends - Korea


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OECD Health Working Papers
No. 45,  20/03/2009, English, 82 pages, doi: 10.1787/225215402672
The Obesity Epidemic: Analysis of Past and Projected Future Trends in Selected OECD Countries
Franco Sassi1; Marion Devaux1; Michele Cecchini; Elena Rusticelli1

1: OECD, France

Doug Robb is a personal trainer, a fitness blogger and author, a competitive athlete, a social media nerd and a student of nutrition and exercise science. Since 2008, Doug has brought his real-world experience online via his health & fitness blog, Health Habits.


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  3. drhewitt

    April 17, 2009 at 3:25 pm

    This is a great post and cites some good resources. Obesity is by far the number one contributor to disease-related death, wasted health-care dollars focused on treatment, and overall drain on everything. It’s amazing to me what people consider “normal” anymore. It is certainly not normal to be overweight let alone obese. It has, however, become very common. People often mistake common for normal.

  4. Brit

    April 14, 2009 at 1:10 pm

    Well, I’ve gone from a BMI of 36 to about 31, so at least I’m going in the right direction. 8-10 more pounds, and I’ll simply be “overweight” instead of “obese.” Not that I put too much stock in BMI anyway.

    I’m intrigued by the fact that the overweight category for Group 1 could level off or decline. I can understand that many people will either lose or gain weight, but I’d think there’d still be more people who became and stayed overweight.

    And I have to say, I know it’s just a representative drawing, and shouldn’t be taken as gospel, but the overweight person in your first pic looks just fine to me. In fact, the normal weight person looks a little too thin.

    (btw–did you get the email I sent you over the weekend?)

  5. DR

    April 16, 2009 at 9:41 am


    You’re right about the picture. It doesn’t take bone structure and muscle mass into account.