Obesity Prevention

Obesity and being overweight are defined as an abnormal or excessive accumulation of fat that can be detrimental to health.

A simple way to measure obesity is the body mass index (BMI). It is calculated by dividing the weight of a person in kilograms by the square of the height in meters.

In the case of adults, a person with a BMI equal to or greater than 30 is considered obese and a BMI equal to or greater than 25 is considered overweight.

Obesity is one of the main risk factors for many chronic diseases, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and stroke, as well as several types of cancer. Also, overweight children are at higher risk of being overweight or obese in adulthood.

Key facts

Obesity and being overweight have reached epidemic proportions. Obesity rates have almost tripled since 1975 and have increased almost five times in children and adolescents, affecting people of all ages from all social groups in the Region of the Americas and the world.

The Region of the Americas has the highest prevalence of all the World Health Organization Regions, with 62.5% of adults being overweight or obese (64.1% of men and 60.9% of women). Looking only at obesity, it is estimated to affect 28% of the adult population (26% of men and 31% of women).

The epidemic is not alien to children and adolescents. In the 5 to 19 age group, 33.6% of children and adolescents are overweight or obese, and 8% of children under the age of five, according to the latest estimates UNICEF, WHO and the World Bank.

PAHO Response

To confront and stop the increase in obesity rates, PAHO promotes and supports policies that allow people to improve their diet, physical activity, and health in the Region of the Americas.

In 2014, PAHO welcomed the unanimous approval of the Plan of Action for the Prevention of Obesity in Children and Adolescents to implement a set of effective policies, laws, regulations, and interventions that take into account priorities and the context of Member States in the following strategic lines of action:

a) Protection, promotion, and support of optimal breastfeeding and complementary feeding practices.
b) Improvement of preschool and school nutrition and physical activity environments.
c) Fiscal policies and regulation of food marketing.
d) Intersectoral actions for health promotion.
e) Surveillance, research, and evaluation.

PAHO also supports the use of WHO-recommended interventions to reduce the obesity epidemic, including WHO's "Best-Buys" related to obesity prevention, the WHO Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health and the Global Action Plan on Physical Activity 2018-2030: More Active People for a Healthier World.

To support the countries of the Region, PAHO continues to provide technical guidance and cooperation to programs and policies, and to facilitate collaboration among countries.

PAHO is also working with countries of the Americas in the implementation of the World Health Organization (WHO) Acceleration Plan to STOP obesity, discussed during the 75th World Health Assembly in 2022. The aim of the plan is to accelerate progress towards reducing obesity, with a focus on high-burden countries.