Global Obesity Now Worse Than Smoking

Increasing Global Obesity Rate

Story at-a-glance

  • The global cost of obesity is now $2 trillion annually, nearly as much as the global cost of smoking ($2.1 trillion) and armed violence ($2.1 trillion)
  • Nearly half of the world's adult population may be overweight or obese by 2030
  • Worldwide, obesity is responsible for about 5 percent of all deaths every year


This is an older article that may not reflect Dr. Mercola’s current view on this topic. Use our search engine to find Dr. Mercola’s latest position on any health topic.

By Dr. Mercola

More than 2.1 billion people, or close to 30 percent of the global population, are overweight or obese. This is more than double the number of adults and children who are undernourished.1

Further, according to a report by The McKinsey Global Institute, the global cost of obesity is now $2 trillion annually, which is nearly as much as the global cost of smoking ($2.1 trillion) and armed violence (including war and terrorism, which also has a global cost of $2.1 trillion).

For comparison, alcoholism costs are $1.4 trillion annually, road accidents cost $700 billion, and unsafe sex costs $300 billion. What’s more, if current trends continue, the McKinsey report estimates that nearly half of the world's adult population will be overweight or obese by 2030.

The costs stemming from obesity are varied. The condition is associated with lost work days and lower productivity, and higher health care costs due to a myriad of related diseases. Worldwide, obesity is responsible for about 5 percent of all deaths each year.2 But while the global burden of obesity is clear, what’s less so is what to do about it.

‘Systemic, Sustained Portfolio of Initiatives’ Needed to Reduce Obesity Health Burden

The McKinsey report leaves more questions than answers, but that’s to be expected because obesity, and its causes, is complex. As they wrote, “existing evidence indicates that no single intervention is likely to have a significant overall impact.” Instead, they recommended a “systemic, sustained portfolio of initiatives,” which include such options as:

  • Reducing default portion sizes
  • Changing marketing practices
  • Restructuring urban and education environments to facilitate physical activities
  • Reformulating food products
  • Workplace wellness

Rather than wait for the “perfect proof” of what works, the report urges experimenting with solutions immediately, especially when the interventions are low cost and low risk.

The changes, according to their findings, should “rely less on conscious choices by individuals and more on changes to the environment and societal norms.” This, they say, is important because education and personal responsibility are not sufficient on their own to reduce obesity – a stance I can’t completely agree with.

Societal changes are indeed important, but so is personal choice and, absolutely, education -- spreading the truth about what really works to maintain a healthy body weight.

The Big Lie from Monsanto and the GMA

The 300+ members of the pro-GMO Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) include chemical/pesticide (i.e. Monsanto), GE (genetically engineered) seed, and processed junk-food companies.

Between 2012 and mid-2014, GMA (by way of dues from their members) successfully blocked GMO labeling legislation in over 30 states, at a price tag of more than $100 million. The claim that GE crops are "necessary" to feed a growing population is a popular mantra among those who do not have an understanding of the whole picture.

Contrary to claims, genetic engineering has not increased crop yields,3 which isn’t surprising as what we really need is to focus on strategies that will promote soil health -- and GE crops decimate soil fertility.

Also, besides killing critical soil microbes needed for plant health and nutrition, what many fail to take into account is that GE plants typically require more water, not less.

And while many varieties are designed to produce their own internal pesticides, which was meant to reduce pesticide requirements, these plants actually require more pesticides too—just to keep up with the proliferation of resistant pests and weeds!

So the big lie that Monsanto and the GMA junk food purveyors continue to promote is how they aim to feed the world… but they fail to show their products are actually FATTENING the world.

They make no progress with starvation due to distribution issues, and instead look for profitable ways to get more people eating the GMO diet staples of corn syrup, trans fats from soybean oil, and sugar, which together fuel the rising obesity rates around the globe. The safety of the entire GMO “food” production is a boldfaced lie when you look at these primary food crops sickening Americans:

  • High fructose corn syrup—one of the primary sources of calories in the American diet—is made from GMO corn (Bt corn), registered with the EPA for producing its own internal pesticide
  • Hydrogenated vegetable oils (trans fats) known to cause heart and cardiovascular disease are made from GMO soy that is resistant to pesticide. This allows it to soak up much more of it than non-GMO soy
  • Sugar beets are also genetically engineered, ensuring that even foods sweetened with "regular sugar" fall into a more toxic category, courtesy of elevated pesticide contamination

Corn syrup, trans fats, and sugar – what a "safe and healthy" food system these companies have created... The continued argument that GMOs are safe is a horrible joke. These ingredients are now foundational in the US diet, and there is virtually no doubt that they are primary contributors to many Americans' failing health and rising rates of obesity.

Soda Companies Increase Marketing to Black and Latino Kids

GMA members also include leading beverage companies, who have recently done just the opposite of what the McKinsey report advises to counter rising obesity rates… they’ve ramped up marketing to black and Latino youth, a population who already has higher rates of obesity than white children and teens.4

In a report released by the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University,5 it was revealed that, in 2013:6

  • Black youth saw more than twice as many TV ads for sugary drinks and energy drinks than white youth
  • Advertising for sugary drinks and energy drinks on Spanish-language TV increased by 44 percent
  • Beverage companies spent $866 million to advertise unhealthy drinks, which is more than four times the amount spent to advertise water and 100% juice
  • Many beverage companies developed child-friendly mobile “advergame” apps

Jennifer Harris, director of marketing initiatives at the Yale Rudd Center and lead author of the report, told The Salt:7

“[Black and Latino] populations suffer more from diabetes, obesity and other negative health consequences from the consumption of sugary beverages; it's a huge problem in those communities.

…These companies all say they have practices for responsible marketing to children in black and Latino communities, but it's not very responsible to be marketing products that are so detrimental to them.

We are really hoping to get companies to pay attention not just to the market opportunities, but also the public health consequences of what they're doing."

Food and beverage advertisers are far from innocent when it comes to creating a global obesity pandemic. According to recent research into food addiction, "highly processed foods can lead to classic signs of addiction like loss of control, tolerance, and withdrawal."8 What other industry is infamous for aggressively marketing a highly addictive product to kids?

Big Tobacco... And just like the tobacco industry, the processed-food industry is fighting tooth and nail to divert responsibility away from their products when questions are raised about the root causes of obesity and food addiction. Is it any coincidence now that the products of these two powerful industries – smoking and obesity – top the list for global health costs?

8 Million Americans Have Diabetes But Don’t Know It

When discussing obesity, it’s not only obesity that’s the problem. As the McKinsey report noted, the rising rates of obesity are driving the increases in heart and lung disease, lifestyle-related cancer, and… diabetes.9 In 2012, more than 28 million (11.8%) US adults had diabetes, but about 8 million of didn’t know it, according to a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.10 This amounts to about three in 10 Americans with diabetes being unaware that they’re suffering from this serious condition.

Worse, about two-thirds of those with undiagnosed diabetes had seen a doctor at least twice in the past year. Even among those diagnosed, the report found much room for improvement of care. Only 64 percent of people with diagnosed diabetes were meeting their blood sugar goals and only 66 percent had their blood pressure under control.11 Said Dr. Robert Ratner, chief scientific and medical officer for the American Diabetes Association:12

"We need to be making the diabetes diagnosis. If you miss the diagnosis, there really are adverse consequences. A disease like diabetes is treatable, but it's only treatable if you've been diagnosed.”

Unfortunately, what many US physicians fail to recognize is that proper diet and exercise are the keys for resolving diabetes – not insulin and not drugs. Type 2 diabetes is a disease rooted in insulin resistance and perhaps more importantly, a malfunction of leptin signaling, caused by chronically elevated insulin and leptin levels. One of the driving forces behind type 2 diabetes is excessive dietary fructose, which has adverse effects on insulin and leptin – and also plays a role in driving up rates of obesity. According to the International Diabetes Federation, over 70 percent of type 2 diabetes cases can be prevented or delayed with a healthier lifestyle.13

Rising Diabetes Rates May Fuel Tuberculosis Epidemic

Diabetes can lead to blindness, kidney failure, limb amputations, and many other health problems, including reduced immunity. This has major implications, because diabetes isn’t a condition isolated to the US. Eighty percent of diabetics live in low- and middle-income countries, 14 where infectious disease like tuberculosis (TB) is common. Diabetes triples your risk of tuberculosis, which infected 9 million people in 2013 (1.5 million died from the disease). According to a report published by the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Diseases and the World Diabetes Foundation, the world is facing a “looming co-epidemic of TB-diabetes.”15

As CNN reported:16

“Changes in diets and lifestyles are taking place across emerging economies, particularly as more people move to urban settings to earn a living. The changes are resulting in higher rates of diseases such as type-2 diabetes… Worryingly, diabetes also triples the risk a person will develop TB… The number of people with diabetes is predicted to be 592 million by 2035, with the majority living in countries with high rates of TB, such as India, China, Brazil, Indonesia, Pakistan and Russia.”

Obesity May Overtake Hunger as the World’s Number One Health Problem

In 1950, the number of starving individuals on Earth was estimated to be around 700 million; 100 million people, primarily in rich countries, were obese. By 2010, the world’s hungry had marginally grown to 800 million, while the number of obese citizens of the world had exploded to 500 million. Estimates suggest that by 2030, more than one billion people, worldwide, will fall into the obese category.17 Along with excess body weight comes a wide range of other health problems. In the US, eight obesity-related diseases account for a staggering 75 percent of healthcare costs. These diseases include:

Type 2 diabetes Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)
Hypertension Polycystic ovarian syndrome
Lipid problems Cancer (especially breast, endometrial, colon, gallbladder, prostate, and kidney18)
Heart disease Dementia

The four diseases in the left column are associated with metabolic syndrome, which is a common factor in obesity. However, several other diseases fall within this category as well, which are listed on the right. And many more could be added to that list. According to the Surgeon General, in addition to the diseases mentioned above, obesity increases your risk for asthma, sleep disorders (including sleep apnea), depression, pregnancy complications, and poor surgical outcomes.19

Again, it's easy to think of obesity as a problem affecting only the wealthiest of nations, but even developing countries are increasingly plagued by expanding waistlines. One analysis discovered that more than half of the world's obese people congregate in 10 countries: United States, China, India, Russia, Brazil, Mexico, Egypt, Germany, Pakistan, and Indonesia.20 The analysis also revealed:

  • One-third of the global population (about 2.1 billion people) is now overweight or obese, 671 million of which fall into the obese category
  • Worldwide, rates of obesity among children have risen by 50 percent between 1980 and 2013
  • In Tonga, more than half of all adults, both men and women, are obese
  • In Kuwait, Kiribati, Federated States of Micronesia, Libya, Qatar, and Samoa, more than half of all women are obese
  • Of the more than 180 countries analyzed, the US carries the heaviest obesity burden, followed by China and India. Obese Americans account for about 13 percent of the world's obese people, while China and India together account for 15 percent of the total

Non-starchy, carb-rich, highly processed (and typically genetically engineered) foods, along with being in continuous feast mode, are primary drivers of these statistics. Wherever a highly processed food diet becomes the norm, obesity inevitably follows.

How to Lose Weight and Get Healthy

Most overweight Americans have some degree of insulin and leptin resistance. Generally, in order for you to significantly gain weight, you must first become leptin resistant. Leptin is a hormone that helps you regulate your appetite. When your leptin levels rise, it signals your body that you're full, so you'll stop eating. However, as you become increasingly resistant to the effects of leptin, you end up eating more. Many people who are overweight also have an impairment in their body's ability to oxidize fat, which leads to a low-energy state.

Dr. Richard Johnson's research clearly shows that refined sugar (in particular fructose) is exceptionally effective at causing leptin resistance in animals, and it's very effective at blocking the burning of fat. If you are insulin or leptin resistant, as long as you keep eating fructose and grains, you're programming your body to create and store fat... This is one of the key reasons why, if you are overweight (which means you are also likely insulin or leptin resistant), it would be prudent for you to restrict your fructose consumption to about 15 to 25 grams of fructose per day from all sources. Not only will this help you to avoid additional weight gain, but it will also help you to avoid further metabolic dysfunction.

You may find this fructose chart helpful in estimating how many grams of fructose you are consuming each day. Dietary sugar, especially fructose, is a significant "tripper of your fat switch." However, if you are serious about losing weight, you'll need a comprehensive plan that includes the following. This plan will help most people lose weight but, also, it will help you to gain metabolic health. So even if your weight is normal, you can follow this plan to ensure that you're metabolically healthy as well.

  • Eliminate or strictly limit fructose in your diet, and follow the healthy eating program in my comprehensive nutrition plan.
  • You can also use intermittent fasting strategically with this program to greatly boost your body's fat-burning potential. Intermittent fasting helps reset your body to use fat as its primary fuel, and mounting evidence confirms that when your body becomes adapted to burning FAT instead of sugar as its primary fuel, you dramatically reduce your risk of chronic disease. Exercising in a fasted state (such as first thing in the morning) will bring it up yet another notch. A simple way to get started with intermittent fasting is to simply omit breakfast, making lunch the first meal of your day. It is a useful strategy to follow until your insulin resistance resolves.
  • Engage in high-intensity Peak Fitness exercise to burn fat and increase muscle mass (a natural fat burner). Also, strive to sit less (much less, such as only three hours a day) and walk 7,000 to 10,000 steps a day in addition to your regular exercise program.
  • Address the emotional component of eating. For this I highly recommend the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), which helps eliminate your food cravings naturally.


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