Fact check: Bloomberg claims more people die of obesity than hunger

Politics,Beltway Confidential,Michal Conger

“For the first time in the history of the world more people will die from overeating than undereating this year,” declared New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg last night on “The Late Night Show With David Letterman.”

“Isn’t that remarkable,” Letterman remarked, before moving on to talk about how food companies get people addicted to their products.

But Bloomberg’s claim calls for closer inspection. He’s not the only one saying it:  a recent Global Burden of Disease study concluded obesity now a more serious problem than malnourishment in the world, with the exception of sub-Saharan Africa. The Red Cross estimates there were 1.5 billion dangerously overweight people worldwide last year, while 925 million were underfed.

The numbers on actual deaths seem to suggest hunger is still more deadly, though. The United Nations estimated last year 25,000 people still die of hunger daily. That means more than 9.1 million people die of hunger every year.

“Malnutrition remains the world’s most serious health problem and the single biggest contributor to child mortality, more than HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria combined,” according to Stop Hunger Now, which pulled its numbers from a 2012 U.N. report.

By contrast, obesity is the world’s fifth leading risks of death globally, according to the World Health Organization. At least 2.8 million adults die each year as a result of being overweight or obese, WHO estimated in 2008 — significantly less than the 9.1 million estimated to die of hunger in the same period.

That is not to say that obesity isn’t a serious issue. Bloomberg said yesterday more than 70,000 people will die of obesity-related causes this year in the United States. But if he wants to “educate” people about their health, the mayor should check his facts before using them to back his soda ban.

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