KINGSTON, R.I. -- The world is round and so are a growing number of its inhabitants. In fact, obesity is spreading at an alarming rate, not just in industrialized countries but in developing countries, where obesity often sits next to malnutrition.
"This places an additional economic burden on poorer countries that they can ill afford, " according to Marquisa LaVelle, a biological anthropologist at the University of Rhode Island and organizer of a symposium on the worldwide epidemic of obesity for the American Association for the Advancement of Science meetings in Boston.
Scientists are documenting the global "fat " problem from China, to Australia, to Egypt, to remote islands of the Pacific, and beyond. In 1995, there were an estimated 200 million obese adults and 22 million children worldwide.
By 2000, the number had skyrocketed to more than 300 million. In developing countries, it is now estimated that more than 115 million people suffer from obesity-related problems, including Type II Diabetes, heart disease and obesity-related cancers.
In the U.S. alone, child obesity has increased by more than 1 percent per year over the past decade with an estimated $99.2 billion in future health care costs, according to the National Institutes of Health.
"Were looking at a ticking time bomb of chronic disease," LaVelle says, noting that a recent World Health Organization study found that obesity is now estimated to have increased 50 percent over the past seven to ten years.
"This rapid change cannot be explained by a lack of personal willpower or changes in the human gene pool," the URI scientist says, "because it is happening so fast and has become so widespread. Rather the epidemic is part of a century-long trend of increased growth in height, weight and earlier puberty in children that has been associated with transitions to industrialized lifestyles."