Researchers from Karolinska University Hospital and the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm analyzed the weight patterns of more than 1.5 million Swedish young men in the period from 1969 to 2005.
By the middle of the current decade, the prevalence of moderate obesity among Swedish males at the age of military conscription had almost quintupled, reaching a level of one in twenty young men.
Morbid obesity was found to have increased tenfold over the same period, with one in every hundred men affected, said the researchers in a statement.
The researchers defined the moderately obese as those with a body mass index (BMI) between 30-34.9. Morbid obesity took hold when BMI exceeded 35.
The largest proportion of overweight men were found in the Norrland region of northern Sweden, while Halland in the west and Stockholm in the east were home to the slimmest men.
If all men of conscription age who qualified for surgical assistance were to avail of the opportunity to tackle their obesity, they would take up a third of all slots set aside for operations for the overweight, said the researchers in a statement.
The findings were viewed as particularly worrying in light of the fact that the incidence of obesity increases further in later life. Consequently, there is a risk that the cost in human suffering could be matched by soaring bills for the Swedish healthcare system.
According to the research group, surgery is the most effective means of tackling morbid obesity. Around 1,600 operations are performed in Sweden on an annual basis. Previously only patients with a BMI above 40 were eligible for the operations, but this was recently reduced to 35.
The researchers’ findings are published in the January edition of the International Journal of Obesity.