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Obesity Crisis: New IAEA Database to Help Countries Tackle Nutrition Challenges

A woman consulting a doctor

Obesity is now rising the fastest in lower- and middle-income countries, with around 70 per cent of  globally overweight or obese people living in these countries. (Image: Adobe Stock).

To mark World Obesity Day on Monday 4 March, the IAEA has launched a body composition (BC) database aimed at helping countries devise better health policies to combat growing obesity challenges worldwide. Learning more about body composition, which refers to the relative amounts of fat and lean tissue that make up the body, can help experts and policy makers make more informed decisions, as body composition is a proven indicator of nutritional health.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), worldwide obesity has nearly tripled since 1975. Around 800 million adults worldwide are living with obesity and the number of children living with obesity is expected to reach 250 million by 2030. The 2022 Global Nutrition Report reported that there is currently a global nutrition crisis, stating “poor diets and malnutrition in all its forms are among the greatest societal challenges of our time, impacting our health, our economies, and our environment”. Obesity is now rising the fastest in lower- and middle-income countries, with around 70 per cent of  globally overweight or obese people living in these countries.  People living with obesity are at increased risk from other chronic diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease and are more likely to develop 13 types of cancer.

“To effectively prevent and manage obesity, interventions need to be based on accurate, informative and relevant data” said Alexia Alford, a Nutrition Specialist at the IAEA. “The new database will bring together body composition data collected using nuclear techniques from across all global regions and from all stages of life. This data will contribute to understanding the complex condition of obesity and provide evidence to support the design of nutrition interventions for the prevention and management of obesity.”

The new IAEA BC database is being populated by countries’ data obtained using the non-invasive stable isotope technique of deuterium dilution. This will enable researchers to examine obesity with reference to body composition data rather than data based only on body proportions, such as weight and height. The IAEA’s new database is a growing global collection of studies, currently representing 13 countries from Latin America, Asia and Africa with datapoints from around 2600 study participants.

The database is open to contributing researchers and will be available to those interested in accessing body composition data for secondary data analysis once the initial phase of data submissions is complete. The IAEA, with the assistance of a management group of experts, will coordinate data usage requests, ensuring that the data is responsibly used for scientific purposes. New data submissions can be made to the Body Composition database here.

The Deuterium Dilution Analysis Technique

Deuterium is a stable isotope of hydrogen, and naturally occurs in water in the body. Experts can measure individual ratios of fat and lean tissue in the body by determining the concentration of deuterium in samples of urine or saliva after a person has drunk a small amount of deuterium oxide – or water labelled with deuterium. Find more details on how the technique works here.

Other IAEA nutrition databases have helped researchers investigate the impact of sedentary lifestyles on dietary needs over three decades and are determining how much breast milk breastfed infants consume around the globe.

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