Obesity in Norway
Norwegians gain, but less than Americans
M. Michael Brady
Obesity is an increasing threat to health round the world. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), worldwide obesity has tripled since 1975. In 2016, more than 1.9 billion adults 18 and older were overweight, and of these, over 650 million were obese. Coping with obesity has become a problem so severe that in 2016 The Lancet, among the world’s oldest, most prestigious medical journals, published the largest-ever statistical study of it. Individual country health statistics reflect the global trend. For instance, in Norway, the Institute of Public Health reckons that about one in four middle-aged men and one in five middle-aged women are obese.
As in the title of The Lancet study, human body weight, overweight, and obesity are expressed in a measure that is the ratio of body weight in kilograms divided by the square of body height in meters. It initially was known as the Quetelet Index, after Belgian scientist Adolphe Quetelet (1796-1874) who first proposed it in 1832. In 1972, American physiologist Ansel Keyes (1904-2004) renamed it the Body Mass Index (BMI), the term by which it’s known today:
BMI = mass (kg) / [height (m)]2
In imperial units, as used in the United States, the formula is:
BMI = mass (lb) / [height (in)]2 × 703
The WHO divides BMI into descriptive categories: below 18.5 is underweight, 18.5-24.9 is normal weight, 25.0-29.9 is pre-obesity, and over 30.0 is obesity; categories above and below the overall range of these four are defined as extreme cases. Moreover, the WHO notes that obesity is mostly preventable, principally through lifestyle changes, including better diet and more exercise.
Over the 40-year period of the Lancet study, the overall average BMI for residents of the United States went up from 25, the lower edge of pre-obesity, to 28.8, at the upper end of pre-obesity, with a marked increase in the rate of overweight after 1976. In comparison, no similar increase in obesity rate was noticed in Norway. The BMI for residents just went up steadily, from 23, in the normal weight category, to 26, at the lower end of the pre-obesity category. Public health authorities understandably are alarmed and have now prioritized combating obesity, in a public information incentive that includes a color graphic caveat on the evils that lead to it.
• “Obesity and overweight,” World Health Organization fact sheet, 2018: www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/obesity-and-overweight
• “Overweight and obesity in Norway,” Norwegian Institute of Public Health report, Mar. 10, 2011, Updated Nov. 3, 2017: www.fhi.no/en/op/hin/lifestyle/overweight-and-obesity-in-norway—
• “Trends in adult body-mass index in 2000 countries from 1974 to 2014: a pooled analysis of 1,698 population-based measurement studies with 19.2 million participants,” The Lancet, Vol. 387, April 2, 2016: www.thelancet.com/pdfs/journals/lancet/PIIS0140-6736(16)30054-X.pdf
• List of countries by body mass index, Wikipedia entry at: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_body_mass_index
This article originally appeared in the February 22, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.