Global obesity: a growing crisis

Almost one-third of the world is now overweight, according to a new global study published in the medical journal The Lancet. Reviewing studies from over 188 countries, the researchers found that more than 2 billion people worldwide are overweight or obese. The current numbers show that a global health crisis is imminent unless urgent steps are taken.

The researchers predicted even larger increases in obesity as incomes rise in low- and middle-income countries. As incomes increase, so does average weight. Now, nearly a quarter of all children in developed countries and 13 percent in undeveloped countries are overweight. Those rates are up from 16 percent and 8 percent, respectively, in 1980.

Over the last 33 years, no nation achieved a lower obesity rate. The results of the analysis predict a new global wave of diseases and condition that may slow down and even reduce recently increased life expectancy rates.

Obesity, usually defined as at least 20 percent more weight than the normal weight for one’s height, increases the risk of not only diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure but also pancreatic and other cancers. Skin infections, ulcers, gallstones, gout, asthma and osteo-arthritis may result from obesity.

In a country like the United States, home to 13 percent of the world’s overweight people, or the United Kingdom, where two of three adults are overweight, the costs of caring for obesity will be staggering. The countries with the largest numbers of overweight people — China, India, Russia, Brazil, Mexico, Egypt, Germany, Pakistan and Indonesia — as well as countries in the Middle East and North Africa with the highest percentages of obese people will need to devote ever more money to care for increasingly obese populations.

Japanese adults are the least obese among the industrialized countries, roughly equal to Chinese and slightly slimmer than South Koreans. Just 3.5 percent were found to be obese according to a study in 2010. However, the Japanese diet has been steadily worsening. More fast foods and commercially produced products with high levels of unhealthy fat, chemical additives, sugar and salt have gradually worked their way into the daily diet of many Japanese.

One step Japan’s government has taken was the measure to restrict “metabolic syndrome.” However, more realistic and long-term solutions must also be found. Schools and companies should make an effort to ensure that healthy and delicious food is served in all cafeterias.

More time off work for exercise and better physical and nutritional education in schools would also help keep these levels as low as possible.

People should also watch what they eat. Food writer Michael Pollan distilled the healthiest rules of eating down to three: eat fresh food, not too much, mostly vegetables. Ironically that sounds just like the traditional Japanese diet ideal.

  • phu

    All over the world, governments are busy ignoring climate change in favor of coddling traditional energy lobbies, and citizens are too far in thrall to worthless social media and self-congratulatory, superficial armchair activism to even consider meaningful steps toward positive change of any kind. The icing on the cake is a bitter concoction of partisanship and nationalism that isolates us all further and further from the cooperation real improvement (and even intelligent debate) requires.

    Why is this little diatribe relevant? Well, when our leaders can’t even discuss world-changing issues like global warming without degenerating into name-calling and unreasoning rivalry, how can anyone possibly expect them to do anything about something so relatively inane as how fat people are?

    We can’t get along with each other, internationally or intranationally, we can’t tolerate people who are different from us (to the point where we kill each other over it), we can’t even rationally discuss what’s best for everyone (let alone do it).

    Obesity is a serious health problem. But it’s not going to be addressed, effectively if at all, because we as a species are too busy destroying ourselves and everything around us to care about what’s good for ourselves or our future.