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Studies: Obesity rates double worldwide

LONDON - The world is becoming a heavier place, especially in the West.

Obesity rates worldwide have doubled in three decades, even as blood pressure and cholesterol levels have dropped, according to three new studies.

People in Pacific Island nations like American Samoa are the heaviest, one study shows. Among developed countries, Americans are the fattest and the Japanese are the slimmest.

"Being obese is no longer just a Western problem," said Majid Ezzati, a professor of public health at Imperial College London, one of the study's authors.

In 1980, about 5 percent of men and 8 percent of women worldwide were obese. By 2008, the rates were nearly 10 percent for men and 14 percent for women. That means 205 million men and 297 million women weighed in as obese. Another 1.5 billion adults were overweight.

Though richer countries did a better job of keeping blood pressure and cholesterol levels under control, researchers said people nearly everywhere are piling on the pounds, except in a few places, including central Africa and South Asia.

The studies are published today in the medical journal Lancet.

Experts warned that the increasing numbers of obese people could lead to a "global tsunami of cardiovascular disease."

Obesity is also linked to higher rates of cancer and diabetes and is estimated to cause about 3 million deaths worldwide every year.

In an accompanying commentary, Sonia Anand and Salim Yusuf of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, said the global forecast for heart disease was "dismal and comprises a population emergency that will cost tens of millions of preventable deaths" unless countries take quick action.