VALLETTA, May 30 (Xinhua) -- The Mediterranean island nation of Malta may be tiny but it weighs in as the country with the heaviest men in Europe, according to a study on the prevalence of obesity published in the medical journal The Lancet Friday.
The report calls for urgent action on what it called a global "pandemic," noting that no country had yet succeeded in turning around the upwards trend in the prevalence of obesity internationally over the past 20 years.
In Europe, the highest number of overweight and obese men was in Malta, at 74 percent and 29 percent respectively, edging out Iceland where 61 percent and 29 percent of people are overweight and obese respectively.
Malta's Deputy Health Minister Chris Fearne said the government recognizes the problem and called for more weight control programs, such as improving access to healthy diets for school children and subsidized gym membership.
Addressing a nutrition conference earlier this month, Fearne stated that the obesity problem puts a strain on the country's economy. It causes the country an annual added healthcare costs of over 20 million euros (27.22 million U.S. dollars), projected to increase to 35 million euros per year by 2020.
Among other general findings in the study, in developed countries nearly 60 percent of men worldwide in 2013 were overweight, defined as a body mass index (BMI) of over 25 kg/m2, and 29 percent were obese at 30 kg/m2 or greater -- conditions that raise the risk of diabetes, heart disease and other illnesses.
Over the period of the study, which surveyed extant data globally from 1980-2013, the prevalence of overweight or obese adults had increased to more than one in three worldwide, up 8 percent in both men and women.
In developed countries alone, the rate among juveniles also increased substantially to nearly one in four, up 7 percent.
U.S. citizens stood out for the high prevalence of obesity, the report said, at roughly one in three for both men and women, and with a 13 percent share of the world's obese in 2013 -- with just 4.5 percent of the world's population.
Tonga and Samoa topped the scales with over 83 percent of men overweight or obese in 2013. Kuwait, Libya, Qatar and Egypt stood out with more than one out of every two women obese.
Prevalence of overweightedness and obesity in developed countries was consistently about double that in developing countries, although the latter also showed the same marked rising trend.
While the report did not include an interpretation on the causes of the trend -- which experts have put down variously to diet and nutrition, lack of exercise or endocrine disruption -- the marked uptick in the numbers of overweight and obese people worldwide have begun in the mid-1990s.