A systematic review of the burden of, access to services for and perceptions of patients with overweight and obesity, in humanitarian crisis settings

Thomas Shortland, Majel McGranahan, Daniel Stewart, Oyinlola Oyebode, Saran Shantikumar, William Proto, Bassit Malik, Roger Yau, Maddie Cobbin, Ammar Sabouni, Gavin Rudge, Farah Kidy*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Introduction: Excess body weight causes 4 million deaths annually across the world. The number of people affected by humanitarian crises stands at a record high level with 1 in 95 people being forcibly displaced. These epidemics overlap. Addressing obesity is a post-acute phase activity in non-communicable disease management in humanitarian settings. Information is needed to inform guidelines and timing of interventions. The objective of this review was to explore the prevalence of overweight and obesity in populations directly affected by humanitarian crises; the cascade of care in these populations and perceptions of patients with overweight and obesity. Methods: Literature searches were carried out in five databases. Grey literature was identified. The population of interest was non-pregnant, civilian adults who had experience of humanitarian crises (armed conflict, complex emergencies and natural disasters). All study types published from January 1st, 2011, were included. Screening, data extraction and quality appraisal were carried out in duplicate. A narrative synthesis is presented. Results: Fifty-six reports from forty-five studies were included. Prevalence estimates varied widely across the studies and by subgroups. Estimates of overweight and obesity combined ranged from 6.4% to 82.8%. Studies were heterogenous. Global distribution was skewed. Increasing adiposity was seen over time, in older adults and in women. Only six studies were at low risk of bias. Body mass index was the predominant measure used. There were no studies reporting cascade of care. No qualitative studies were identified. Conclusion: Overweight and obesity varied in crisis affected populations but were rarely absent. Improved reporting of existing data could provide more accurate estimates. Worsening obesity may be prevented by acting earlier in long-term crises and targeting risk groups. The use of waist circumference would provide useful additional information. Gaps remain in understanding the existing cascade of care. Cultural norms around diet and ideal body size vary.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0282823.
Number of pages29
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 24 Apr 2023


  • Research Article
  • Biology and life sciences
  • People and places
  • Medicine and health sciences


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