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With an increasing prevalence of overweight and obesity worldwide and more people dying of related health problems, a disturbing global public health crisis has been brought to light, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Monday.

Conducted in 195 countries over a 35-year period, the study is one of the most comprehensive carried out to date on obesity. It found that about 107.7 million children and 603.7 million adults were obese worldwide in 2015.

In the same year, among the 20 most populous countries, the highest level of adult obesity was observed in Egypt (35.3%) while the highest level of childhood obesity was observed in the United States (12.7%). On the other hand, the prevalence was lowest among adults in Vietnam (1.6%) and among children in Bangladesh (1.2%). The United States and China had the highest numbers of obese adults, whereas China and India had the highest numbers of obese children.

Four million deaths and 120 million disability-adjusted life-years

The study further revealed that in 2015, excess weight contributed to 4 million deaths, representing 7.1% of the deaths from any cause; bringing the global death rate related to high BMI up 28.3% from 1990 through 2015 – from 41.9 deaths per 100,000 population to 53.7 deaths per 100,000 population.

At the same time, excess weight caused 120 million disability-adjusted life-years – 4.9% of disability-adjusted life-years from any cause among adults globally.

While it is common for people to shrug off weight gain, the study worryingly pointed out that it isn’t only the obese (BMI above 30) who are at risk of these health problems, overweight (BMI of 25 to 29) individuals are also at risk. Almost two in five of deaths (39%) and disability-adjusted life-years (37%) that were related to high BMI occurred in persons with a BMI of less than 30.

Some other common ailments associated with excess weight include cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancers, musculoskeletal disorders, and chronic kidney disease.

What should employers do about it?

While it might seem like employers have no part to play in solving this problem, given the negative health impacts associated with excess weight, it makes sense for organisations to make an effort to reduce obesity since healthy employees tend to be more productive and help the organisation save up on unnecessary medical costs.

With today’s professional spending a majority of time at work, employers can play a part in reducing health problems associated with obesity by making healthy snacks easily accessible in the office, organising group exercise programmes, as well as providing complimentary health screenings.

ALSO READ: What employers need to know about health and productivity in APAC

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