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Obesity Worldwide continued...

Just under one in three men and almost half of the women had waist circumferences of more than 40 and 35, respectively, putting them at higher risk for heart disease and diabetes.

The rate of diagnosed heart disease among male and female study participants was 16% and 13%, respectively. A total of 13% of men and 11% of women had known diabetes.

The men and women in the study with the largest waists were more than twice as likely as those with the smallest waists to have heart disease.

Diabetes risk was three times higher for the quarter of men with the biggest waists and almost six times higher for women, compared with the quarter of the study population with the smallest waists.

The study is published in the latest issue of the American Heart Association (AHA) journal Circulation.

Reversing the Obesity Trend

While people living in southern and eastern Asia fared better than other populations in terms of obesity and waist circumference, the researchers point out that this is not necessarily reassuring because their rates of obesity are also rising.

American Heart Association spokesman Gerald Fletcher, MD, of the Jacksonville branch of the Mayo Clinic, tells WebMD that the study provides important confirmation of the global reach of obesity.

"We have known that obesity is a worldwide problem, but this is the largest study yet to actually show this," he says.

Balkau and colleagues conclude that unless the trend is reversed, the rise in obesity will result in major increases in sickness and death from related diseases like diabetes.

Fletcher agrees, adding that major public health initiatives are needed to address the problem.

"We have seen that such initiatives can work to reduce cigarette smoking," he says. “We have to have the same kind of commitment to make a difference in obesity rates."

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