Global Health Observatory (GHO) data

Mean Body Mass Index (BMI)

Situation and trends

Worldwide, at least 2.8 million people die each year as a result of being overweight or obese, and an estimated 35.8 million (2.3%) of global DALYs are caused by overweight or obesity. Overweight and obesity lead to adverse metabolic effects on blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides and insulin resistance. Risks of coronary heart disease, ischemic stroke and type 2 diabetes mellitus increase steadily with increasing body mass index (BMI), a measure of weight relative to height. Raised body mass index also increases the risk of cancer of the breast, colon, prostate, endometrium, kidney and gall bladder. Mortality rates increase with increasing degrees of overweight, as measured by body mass index. To achieve optimum health, the median body mass index for an adult population should be in the range of 21 to 23 kg/m2, while the goal for individuals should be to maintain body mass index in the range 18.5 to 24.9 kg/m2. There is increased risk of co-morbidities for body mass index 25.0 to 29.9, and moderate to severe risk of co-morbidities for body mass index greater than 30.

In 2008, 35% of adults aged 20+ were overweight (BMI ≥ 25 kg/m2) (34% men and 35% of women). The worldwide prevalence of obesity has nearly doubled between 1980 and 2008. In 2008, 10% of men and 14% of women in the world were obese (BMI ≥30 kg/m2), compared with 5% for men and 8% for women in 1980. An estimated 205 million men and 297 million women over the age of 20 were obese – a total of more than half a billion adults worldwide.

The prevalence of overweight and obesity were highest in the WHO Regions of the Americas (62% for overweight in both sexes, and 26% for obesity) and lowest in the WHO Region for South East Asia (14% overweight in both sexes and 3% for obesity). In the WHO Region for Europe and the WHO Region for the Eastern Mediterranean and the WHO Region for the Americas over 50% of women were overweight. For all three of these regions, roughly half of overweight women are obese (23% in Europe, 24% in the Eastern Mediterranean, 29% in the Americas). In all WHO regions women were more likely to be obese than men. In the WHO regions for Africa, Eastern Mediterranean and South East Asia, women had roughly double the obesity prevalence of men.

The prevalence of raised body mass index increases with income level of countries up to upper middle income levels. The prevalence of overweight in high income and upper middle income countries was more than double that of low and lower middle income countries. For obesity, the difference more than triples from 7% obesity in both sexes in lower middle income countries to 24% in upper middle income countries. Women's obesity was significantly higher than men's, with the exception of high income countries where it was similar. In low and lower middle income countries, obesity among women was approximately double that among men.