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Obesity: The Health Challenge of the 21st Century
August  2018

For the first time in history, more people are suffering from obesity than from starvation worldwide. A recent SCOR inFORM newsletter entitled “Obesity: Health Challenge of the 21st Century” discusses who is at risk as well as causes and consequences of being obese.

Obesity is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as “abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that presents a risk to health.” Diagnosis is typically indirect via calculation of body mass index (BMI), which is the ratio between weight and height of an individual.

According to the authors, the increase in obesity during the past 20 years has been substantial, wide-ranging and rapid. Projections are for obesity rates to continue to rise in
linear fashion, particularly in the US, Mexico and England, where 35% - 50% of the populations are expected to be obese by 2030.

Figure 1 - Rising Incidence of Obesity Worldwide


Of concern is the rise in the number of children (aged 5-11 years) with BMI above the 85th percentile. Childhood obesity in the US was approximately 15% in the 1970s but had doubled by 2000s. In 2013, there were 42 million overweight or obese children globally.
If the trend continues, the number will rise to 70 million by 2025.

From a personal insurance standpoint globally, the increase in obesity rates and its associated excess mortality should be considered in terms of the pricing perspective by the insurance industry. All studies looking at all-cause mortality show an excess risk of death from a body mass index (BMI) of 30 and upwards, which is more marked from a BMI of 35 and even higher once BMIs increase above 40.

The leading causes of mortality are cardiovascular and cerebrovascular, primarily myocardial infarction and stroke. The Lancet published a meta-analysis in 2016 of 239
BMI studies on four different continents. In this study, it was found that the mortality increased linearly with BMIs over 25 and that this impact was more significant in younger people than in people over 70 years of age.

Diet and exercise are the primary ways to prevent and to treat obesity. Bariatric surgery is considered the best weight loss treatment for people with BMI >40 who are morbidly obese.

Authors of the SCOR Life publication are Dr. Christine Abalain-Castela, Dr. Stephan Becher, Dr. Jacques-Louis Boucher, Delphine Labojka and Aja O’Gorman. You will find the complete article on the SCOR website at​