Melbourne: An astonishing 5.5 billion people – up to 76 per cent of the world’s population – are ‘overfat’, warn researchers who say the new pandemic has quietly overtaken the planet and argue for a change in global health efforts against chronic and metabolic diseases.
The researchers, including those from Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand, put forth a specific notion of overfat, a condition of having sufficient excess body fat to impair health.
“The overfat pandemic has not spared those who exercise or even compete in sports,” said lead author of the study Philip Maffetone, CEO of MAFF Fitness Pty Ltd in Australia.
“The overfat category includes normal-weight people with increased risk factors for chronic disease, such as high abdominal fat, and those with characteristics of a condition called normal-weight metabolic obesity,” said Maffetone.
While the obesity epidemic has grown considerably over the last three to four decades, this work casts light on the much higher numbers of people who may have unhealthy levels of body fat.
“We want to bring awareness of the rise in these risk factors, where the terms ‘overfat’ and ‘underfat’ describe new body composition states. We hope the terms will enter into common usage, to help create substantive improvements in world health,” said Maffetone.
The work, involving Ivan Rivera-Dominguez, research assistant at MAFF and Paul B Laursen, adjunct professor at the Auckland University of Technology also indicates that 9 to 10 per cent of the world population may be underfat.
“While we think of the condition of underfat as being due to starvation, those worldwide numbers are dropping rapidly.
However, an ageing population, an increase in chronic disease and a rising number of excessive exercisers or those with anorexia athletica, are adding to the number of non-starving underfat individuals,” Maffetone said.
This leaves as little as 14 per cent of the world’s population with normal body-fat percentage, researchers said.
“This is a global concern because of its strong association with rising chronic disease and climbing healthcare costs, affecting people of all ages and incomes,” said Maffetone.
While it is estimated that up to 49 per cent of the world’s population, or 3.5 billion people, are obese or overweight, the well-documented obesity epidemic may merely be the tip of the overfat iceberg, researchers said.
The term overfat, as opposed to obesity and overweight, may be more helpful moving forward in addressing this global health problem, they said.
This is the first effort to globally quantify those who are overfat versus overweight or obese. The traditional body-mass index (BMI) measures weight and height, but is not a direct measure of body fat, researchers said.
The research was published in the journal Frontiers in Public Health.