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14/06/02 . By Nigel Hawkes, Health Editor . The Times . UK  
Overfed, overweight, over here  
A billion people around the world are now either overweight or obese, the World Heart Federation has said. The “fat epidemic” is rapidly overtaking smoking as the main cause of heart disease and stroke. The United States leads the world fatties’ league, but Britain is not far behind.  

Almost 20 per cent of British men, and 21.4 per cent of women, have a body mass index of 30 or more, which is the definition of obesity. Around half of all British adults are reckoned to be overweight, with a BMI of over 25.

Heart disease and stroke already kill 17 million people in the world every year, and the risks of both are greatly increased by being overweight.

Severe obesity is linked to a 12-fold increase in deaths among young adults, while women who are overweight are three times more likely to have a stroke.

“The obesity epidemic is caused largely by an environment which discourages physical activity and promotes unhealthy eating,” Professor Mario Maranhao, a Brazilian specialist and President of the federation, said.

“Urban populations in many countries have changed their diets, increasing their consumption of saturated fats and sugar and reducing fibre consumptions.

“This has a direct impact on children. An estimated 22 million children under five are overweight, and nearly one in three children in the United States between five and 14 is overweight, compared to one in six 30 years ago.”

Fat is also an emerging epidemic in low and middle-income countries, where the awareness of the health effects may be less. Of the one billion total, the federation said, 300 million people are obese, and another 700 million overweight.

“In countries such as China, and in Africa and the Middle East, the image of prosperity and success can be associated with weight gain,” said Professor Bayes de Luna, a Spanish cardiologist who is chairman of World Heart Day, which will be held on September 29.

In Britain, obesity has become steadily more common, trebling since the 1980s. Treating obesity costs the NHS at least £500 million a year, with another £2 billion for reduced productivity and lost output.

Body Mass Index is the figure that results from dividing the weight in kg by the square of the height in metres.  
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