By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Editor
WASHINGTON, Oct 22 (Reuters) - People are getting fatter in all parts of the world, with the possible exception of east Asia, doctors found in a one-day global snapshot of obesity.
Overall, 24 percent of men and 27 percent of women seeing their doctors that day were obese, and another 30 percent of men and 40 percent of women were overweight, the researchers found.
That puts the rest of the world close to par with the United States, long considered the country with the worst weight problem. An estimated two-thirds of Americans are overweight and a third of these are obese.
"The study results show that excess body weight is pandemic, with one-half to two-thirds of the overall study population being overweight or obese," said Beverley Balkau, director of research at the French National health research institute INSERM in Villejuif, who led the study published in the journal Circulation.
People who are overweight have a higher risk of heart disease, diabetes and some types of cancer.
Balkau and colleagues evaluated 168,159 adults who happened to be seeing their primary care doctors in 63 countries across five continents — but not the United States —in 2006.
In all regions except southern and eastern Asia, 60 percent of men and 50 percent of women were either overweight or obese, they found.
This was measured using body mass index, or BMI, which calculates height to weight and is considered an accurate way of assessing overweight in most adults except highly muscled athletes.
A BMI of 18-24 is considered healthy. People with BMIs of 25 to 30 are overweight and anyone with a BMI of 30 or more is obese.
Just 7 percent of people in eastern Asia were obese, compared to 36 percent of people seeing their doctors in Canada, 38 percent of women in Middle Eastern countries and 40 percent in South Africa.
Canada and South Africa led in the percentage of overweight people, with an average BMI of 29 among both men and women in Canada and 29 among South African women.
In Northern Europe men had an average BMI of 27 and women 26 — just into the overweight category. In southern Europe, the average BMI was 28. In Australia BMI was 28 for men and 27.5 for women while in Latin America the average BMI was just under 28.
Other experts noted that the people studied were all seeing doctors at the time.
This clearly would affect the results, said Dr. Gerald Fletcher, a cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida and a spokesman for the American Heart Association.
While the poorest people in industrialized countries tend to be among the most overweight, this is not the case in the developing world, where the poorest have little chance of ever seeing a doctor and are also often undernourished.
But the findings also mean doctors can do more to help patients, Fletcher said.
"Health care providers are not paying enough attention to people who are too fat," Fletcher said in a telephone interview.
"We don’t look at prevention enough."