More than 40,000 lives could be saved in the UK by 2030 if people were a healthy weight, research suggests.
Premature deaths from cardiovascular disease, cancer, chronic respiratory disease and diabetes could be cut by 31% compared with current predictions if obesity was wiped out, a study found.
Researchers, who presented their findings at the European Congress on Obesity in Glasgow, found that obesity directly accounts for about four million deaths globally in a year.
Around the world, cardiovascular disease, cancer, chronic respiratory disease and diabetes account for 41 million deaths annually and 15 million of these are premature.
The study was led by Niels Lund, from Novo Nordisk in Denmark, and Laurie Twells, associate professor at the Memorial University of Newfoundland.
They created a model using body mass index (BMI) and population data.
In one scenario, where obesity trends continue in a linear fashion, 127,645 people in the UK will die early by 2030.
If the status quo was maintained and current BMI levels remain unchanged, 118,234 people would die early.
But if there was no excess weight and nobody was overweight or obese, these numbers could be cut to 87,552 people dying early.
The researchers said: “While eliminating excess weight is a highly hypothetical scenario, it shows the great impact obesity has on premature noncommunicable diseases deaths and what can be gained even by keeping obesity at today’s rates until 2030.”
A United Nations’ sustainable development goal target is to reduce premature mortality from noncommunicable diseases by one third by 2030.
Dr Kate Allen, executive director of science and public affairs at the World Cancer Research Fund, said: “In the UK, over 60% of adults are overweight or obese, putting them at an increased risk of at least 12 different types of cancer.
“Evidence shows that implementing effective policies will reduce the chances of people being overweight or obese.
“But it will take a whole-of-society, whole-of-government approach to solve the global obesity epidemic.”
Tam Fry, chairman of the National Obesity Forum, said the researchers were asking the impossible.
He added: “For the last 20 years, the UK has made scarcely a dent in its obesity figures simply because no government has taken obesity reduction as seriously as it should.
“Every target it has set has been broken. Wiping out obesity by 2030 would be wonderful but this sustainable development goal aspiration will suffer the same fate.”