The Growing Impact of Obesity and High Blood Sugar on Global Health


A recent study published in The Lancet reveals concerning trends in global health, highlighting the increasing burden of obesity and high blood sugar on illness and early death. The Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study 2021, which analyzed data from 204 countries and territories, underscores the shift in health challenges as populations age and lifestyles change.

Key Findings

Rising Impact of Metabolic Issues

The study measured health impacts using disability-adjusted life years (DALYs), a metric that combines years lost due to illness and premature death. According to the findings, obesity, high blood sugar, and high blood pressure now contribute to nearly 50% more years of healthy life lost compared to the year 2000. This alarming increase indicates that metabolic issues are becoming dominant health risks worldwide.

Decline in Undernutrition

In contrast, the number of years lost due to undernutrition-related factors, such as stunting and wasting in mothers and children, has decreased significantly by 71.5% over the same period. This improvement highlights progress in addressing nutritional deficiencies, especially in vulnerable populations.

Shifts in Global Health Challenges

The data points to a clear shift in global health priorities. While air pollution remains the leading risk factor in both 2000 and 2021, the rise of metabolic issues like obesity and high blood sugar is reshaping the landscape of global health challenges.

Regional Disparities

However, the study also notes significant regional disparities. For example, undernutrition remains a major risk factor in sub-Saharan Africa, indicating that global health challenges are not uniform and require region-specific strategies.

Ill-Health Among Younger Adults

The study highlights that among 15- to 49-year-olds, a high body-mass index (BMI) and high blood sugar are increasingly significant contributors to ill-health. These factors are closely linked to the development of diabetes, underscoring the need for preventive measures and lifestyle interventions.

Future Health Trends

Looking ahead, the study’s authors caution that future health trends may diverge significantly from past patterns due to factors such as climate change, increasing obesity rates, and rising addiction levels. Lead research scientist Liane Ong from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington emphasizes the importance of adapting health strategies to these evolving challenges.

Life Expectancy Projections

An accompanying study from the same research team predicts that global life expectancy will rise by 4.5 years by 2050, from 73.6 years to 78.1 years. The largest increases are expected in countries with currently lower life expectancies, suggesting a convergence of life expectancy levels around the world. However, this increased longevity is likely to come with more years spent in poor health, highlighting the need for strategies to improve quality of life in addition to lifespan.


The findings from the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study 2021 underscore the urgent need to address the rising impact of obesity and high blood sugar on global health. While progress has been made in reducing undernutrition, the growing prevalence of metabolic issues demands a comprehensive approach to prevention and treatment. As we look to the future, it is crucial to adapt our health strategies to address these emerging challenges and improve the overall well-being of populations worldwide.

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