Health and Healthcare

Over half the world's population could be overweight by 2035, plus other health stories you need to read this week

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Top health news: childhood obesity could more than double by 2035 without significant action; acute malnutrition rises in pregnant and breastfeeding women in Africa and Asia; and more.

Top health news: childhood obesity could more than double by 2035 without significant action; acute malnutrition rises in pregnant and breastfeeding women in Africa and Asia; and more. Image: REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Shyam Bishen
Head, Centre for Health and Healthcare; Member of the Executive Committee, World Economic Forum

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  • This global round-up brings you health stories from the past fortnight.
  • Top health news: childhood obesity could more than double by 2035 without significant action; acute malnutrition rises in pregnant and breastfeeding women in Africa and Asia; AI to be used in UK breast cancer screening trial.

1. Over half of people will be overweight by 2035, if action not taken

More than half of the world's population will be overweight or obese by 2035 without significant action, according to a new report. The World Obesity Federation's 2023 atlas predicts that 51% of the world, or more than 4 billion people, will be obese or overweight within the next 12 years.

The report uses body mass index (BMI) for its assessments. In line with the World Health Organization's guidelines, a BMI score over 25 is overweight and over 30 is obese. In 2020, 2.6 billion people fell into these categories, or 38% of the world's population.

Graphic showing global obesity trends for children and adults 2020-2035
208 million boys and 175 million girls could be obese by 2035. Image: World Obesity Federation

The report found that childhood obesity could more than double from 2020 levels, to 208 million boys and 175 million girls by 2035. "It is particularly worrying to see obesity rates rising fastest among children and adolescents," Louise Baur, president of the World Obesity Federation said. "Governments and policymakers around the world need to do all they can to avoid passing health, social and economic costs on to the younger generation."

The cost to society is significant as a result of the health conditions linked to being overweight, the federation said: more than $4 trillion annually by 2035, or 3% of global GDP. The report also found that almost all of the countries expected to see the greatest increases in obesity in the coming years are low- or middle-income countries in Asia and Africa.

Thousands of people in Ukraine have sustained complex injuries linked to the war and need rehabilitation services and equipment to help them, the World Health Organization (WHO) says. They include fractures, amputations, spinal cord injuries, traumatic brain injuries and burns.

Dr Satish Mishra from the WHO's regional office for Europe, told a media briefing that attacks on healthcare facilities, fewer healthcare workers due to displacement, and power shortages were all making it difficult for people to get care.

Even before the war, in 2019, about half the population in Ukraine could have benefited from rehabilitation services, mostly linked to non-communicable conditions such as cardiovascular disease or diabetes, Dr Cathal Morgan, another WHO official said. Since then, the pandemic and the war have significantly increased the need for rehab services, he added.

3. News in brief: Health stories from around the world

Activists, politicians and academics have written an open letter saying there should not be a repeat of the unequal COVID-19 vaccine rollout. Marking the third anniversary since the health crisis was classified as a pandemic, the group says an estimated 1.3 million fewer people would have died if jabs had been distributed equitably in 2021.

More than a hundred low- and middle-income countries have put in early bids for at least $5.5 billion from a fund that initially has only $300 million to spend to help them better prepare for pandemics. The demand is a sign that pandemic prevention, preparedness and response needs more money and attention, the head of the fund's secretariat at the World Bank, Priya Basu, says.

UNICEF says that acute malnutrition among pregnant and breastfeeding women has risen by 25% in 12 countries in Africa and Asia since 2020, Al Jazeera reports. The UN agency says the number of women affected went from 5.5 million to 6.9 million, and has been exacerbated by conflict, political instability and the climate crisis.

The cost of expanding US Medicare prescription drug coverage to pay for new obesity medications could be catastrophic, health economists warn. Big-selling diabetes drugs have been repurposed as obesity treatments after demonstrating weight loss of more than 20% in clinical trials.

Breast cancer scans for NHS patients in the UK will be checked by AI for the first time in a new trial, reports The Times. It's hoped the software will help fill the gap caused by staff shortages as well as improving detection.

The US Food and Drug Administration has approved a nasal spray for migraine, giving patients access to a potentially fast-acting pain relief option for headaches. Zavzpret, which is manufactured by Pfizer, was superior in 13 of 17 goals when compared to placebo, including pain relief in 15 minutes and normal function at 30 minutes, in a late-stage study.

France has reported an outbreak of highly pathogenic H5N1 bird flu among red foxes northeast of Paris. The World Health Organization has described the bird flu situation as "worrying" due to the recent rise in cases in birds and mammals and said that it was reviewing its global risk assessment.

The Italian health minister's plans to extend a nationwide indoor smoking ban has been criticised by some of his cabinet colleagues. Italian media is reporting that Orazio Schillaci's proposals will include the outside areas of bars, public transport stops, and parks if pregnant women and children are present.


What is the World Economic Forum doing to improve healthcare systems?

4. More on health from Agenda

By 2050, up to 10 million people a year could be killed by antimicrobial-resistant (AMR) bugs. Pollution, the climate crisis and loss of biodiversity all contribute towards AMR, threatening human, animal and plant health.

Scientists at the University of Bergen have discovered new evidence that sleeping well may make you less vulnerable to infections. Increased awareness of the importance of sleep is needed to boost health and well-being, says one of the scientists involved in the study.

Health inequity is still prevalent worldwide, negatively impacting socio-economic opportunities for women and the economy. But positive signs of progress exist, including through social movements and FemTech.

Related topics:
Health and HealthcareGlobal HealthMental Health
1. Over half of people will be overweight by 2035, if action not taken2. Thousands in Ukraine have complex war-related injuries3. News in brief: Health stories from around the world4. More on health from Agenda

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