Severe obesity rockets in Korea: Younger people at greater risk

By Millette Burgos contact

- Last updated on GMT

Severe obesity in Korea prevalent in the past 12 years. ©iStock
Severe obesity in Korea prevalent in the past 12 years. ©iStock

Related tags: Obesity

Cases of severe and extreme obesity have doubled in Korea over the past 12 years, with people in their 20s and 30s most likely to be piling on the pounds.

But while the worst cases of obesity have soared, the prevalence of moderate obesity plateaued during the same period.

“Obesity is the most important public health problem that increases the risk of type 2 diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and premature death. It is also a subsequent financial burden on healthcare systems,” ​wrote researchers from the Department of Family Medicine at the Inje University IIsan Paik Hospital in South Korea.

Using data from 110 million Koreans that underwent medical examinations by the National Health Insurance System from 2002-2013, the study unravelled a number of distressing obesity trends.

The study categorised obesity into three categories as indicated by participants’ body mass index (BMI): obesity class I 25.0-29.9 BMI; obesity class II 30.0-39.9 BMI; and obesity class III 35kg and above BMI.

Moderate obesity reached a plateau

Findings showed that while moderate obesity trends plateaued in the past 12 years, there was also a dramatic increase in severe obesity in Korean adults.

The study said number of class III obesity has more than doubled within 12 years – from 0.17% in 2002 to 0.49% in 2013 overall, in age groups from 20 years and older.

Women aged 50-59 has the highest number of class III obesity in 2002. After 12 years, the age group shifted to 30-39 years old.

On the other hand, women in their 60s showed highest prevalence of class I and II obesity from 2002 to 2013.

Class I obesity was highest in the men’s 50s group age during the 12-year period, but class II and III obesity was highest in the men’s 30s and 20s age groups, respectively, researchers observed.

What was especially noteworthy, said the study is the “clear, rapid rise in class II and III of obesity continued from 2002 through 2013 in both men and women in their 20s and 30s.”

The study explained that the spike among the younger set was probably due to habits from their adolescent years that include sedentary lifestyles, daily consumption of fast food and other fatty and sugary snacks, and sleep deprivation during school years.

Once these teenagers hit their 20s or 30s, the sedentary lifestyle habits continued with most owning cars for mobility.

Thus, to slow down the continued rise of obesity in Korea, researchers suggested that public awareness, intervention, and prevention of obesity that focus more on adolescents and young adults.

“Considering the fast rise in prevalence of morbid obesity in young adults, further studies exploring factors causing these trends are needed to establish a long-term policy for lowering future burden on health care system,”​ the study concluded.

Source: Journal of Korean Medical Science

DOI: 10.3346/jkms.2017.32.3.434

“Recent Shift of Body Mass Index Distribution in Korea: a Population-based Korea National Health Insurance Database, 2002–2013”

Authors: Yeong Sook Yoon and Sang Woo Oh

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