Wednesday, June 27, 2012


Obesity is a growing global health problem. Obesity is when someone is so overweight that it is a threat to their health.
Obesity typically results from over-eating (especially an unhealthy diet) and lack of enough exercise.
In our modern world with increasingly cheap, high calorie food (example, fast food — or “junk food”), prepared foods that are high in things like salt, sugars or fat, combined with our increasingly sedentary lifestyles, increasing urbanization and changing modes of transportation, it is no wonder that obesity has rapidly increased in the last few decades, around the world.
For the first time in human history, the number of overweight people rivals the number of underweight people.… While the world’s underfed population has declined slightly since 1980 to 1.1 billion, the number of overweight people has surged to 1.1 billion.
In the United States, 55 percent of adults are overweight by international standards. A whopping 23 percent of American adults are considered obese. And the trend is spreading to children as well, with one in five American kids now classified as overweight.… [O]besity cost the United States 12 percent of the national health care budget in the late 1990s, $118 billion, more than double the $47 billion attributable to smoking.
Overweight and obesity are advancing rapidly in the developing world as well … [while] 80 percent of the world’s hungry children live in countries with food surpluses.
 technofixes like liposuction or olestra attract more attention than the behavioral patterns like poor eating habits and sedentary lifestyles that underlie obesity. Liposuction is now the leading form of cosmetic surgery in the United States, for example, at 400,000 operations per year. While billions are spent on gimmicky diets and food advertising, far too little money is spent on nutrition education.
The BBC revealed that food wastage is enormous. In the United Kingdom, some astonishing 30-40% of all food is never eaten, while in the US, some 40-50% of all food ready for harvest never gets eaten. UK alone sees some £20 billion ($38 billion US dollars) worth of food thrown away each year.
  • 40-50% of all food ready for harvest never gets eaten.
  • Every year, over 25% of Americans get sick from what they eat.
  • As few as 13 major corporations control nearly all of the slaughterhouses in the U.S.
  • Americans eat 31% more packaged food than fresh food.
  • The FDA tests only about 1% of food imports. (The US imports about 15% of what they eat.)
  • A simple frozen dinner can contains ingredients from over 500 different suppliers so you have to trust all of those hundreds of companies along the way stuck to regulations about food safety.
  • 50% of tested samples of high fructose corn syrup tested for mercury.
  • Americans eat about six to nine pounds of chemical food additives per year.
  • Food intolerance is on the rise, with as many as 30 million people in the U.S. showing symptoms.
  • Fewer than 27% of Americans eat the correct ratio of meats to vegetables.
  • 80% of the food supply is the responsibility of the FDA yet the number of inspections has decreased while the number of producers has increased.
  • Keeping fields contamination-free can cost well over $250,000–a discouraging sum to smaller farmers.
The World Health Organization (WHO) provides a number of facts on obesity, including that globally in 2005:
  • Approximately 1.6 billion adults (age 15+) were overweight
  • At least 400 million adults were obese
  • At least 20 million children under the age of 5 years are overweight globally in 2005.
The WHO also projected that by 2015, approximately 2.3 billion adults will be overweight and more than 700 million will be obese.
Globally, in 2010 the number of overweight children under the age of five, is estimated to be over 42 million. Close to 35 million of these are living in developing countries.
Overweight and obese children are likely to stay obese into adulthood and more likely to develop noncommunicable diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular diseases at a younger age.
  • While they continue to deal with the problems of infectious disease and under-nutrition, at the same time they are experiencing a rapid upsurge in chronic disease risk factors such as obesity and overweight, particularly in urban settings.
  • It is not uncommon to find under-nutrition and obesity existing side-by-side within the same country, the same community and even within the same household.
  • This double burden is caused by inadequate pre-natal, infant and young child nutrition followed by exposure to high-fat, energy-dense, micronutrient-poor foods and lack of physical activity.
With obesity comes increasing risks of
  • Cardiovascular disease (mainly heart disease and stroke) — already the world’s number one cause of death, killing 17 million people each year.
  • Diabetes (type 2) — which has rapidly become a global epidemic.
  • Musculoskeletal disorders — especially osteoarthritis.
  • Some cancers (endometrial, breast, and colon).
In Europe, for example, the WHO’s European regional body says that “obesity is already responsible for 2-8% of health costs and 10-13% of deaths in different parts of the Region.”
The report further highlights that the costs of coronary heart disease alone are around £10 billion a year (approximately 14 billion in U.S. dollars). These costs are made up of
  • £1.6 billion in direct costs (primarily to the tax payer through the costs of treatment by the British National Health Service) and
  • £8.4 billion in indirect costs (to industry and to society as a whole, though loss of productivity due to death and disability).
Other issues and problems they point out include:
  • Encouraging/advertising unhealthy diets and foods (especially to children);
  • Generally putting low priority on health;
  • Industry-dominated food policy at the expense of local grocery stores;
  • Deteriorating health of children in poverty;
  • and so on.
Food systems causes of obesity
The main problem has been the increased availability of high energy food, because of:
  • Liberalized international food markets
  • Food subsidies that “have arguably distorted the food supply in favour of less healthy foodstuffs”
  • “Transnational food companies [that] have flooded the global market with cheap to produce, energy dense, nutrient empty foods”
  • “Supermarkets and food service chains [that are] encouraging bulk purchases, convenience foods, and supersized portions”
  • Healthy eating often being more expensive than less healthy options, (despite global food prices having dropped on average).
  • Marketing, especially “food advertising through television [which] aims to persuade individuals—particularly children—that they desire foods high in saturated fats, sugars, and salt.”
The local environment and obesity
How people live, what factors make them active or sedentary are also a factor. For exapmle,
  • “Research, mainly in high income countries, indicates that local urban planning and design can influence weight in several ways.”
  • For example, levels of physical activity are affected by
    • Connected streets and the ability to walk from place to place
    • Provision of and access to local public facilities and spaces for recreation and play
  • The increasing reliance on cars leads to physical inactivity, and while a long-time problem in rich countries, is a growing problem in developing countries.
Social conditions and obesity
Examples of issues the BMJ noted here include
  • “Working and living conditions, such as having enough money for a healthy standard of living, underpin compliance with national health guidelines”
  • “Increasingly less job control, security, flexibility of working hours, and access to paid family leave … undermining the material and psychosocial resources necessary for empowering individuals and communities to make healthy living choices.”
  • Inequality, which can lead to different groups being disadvantaged and having less access to needed resources and healthier foods
Addressing obesity at the global level
This involves international institutions, agreements, trade and other policies. For example,
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) is a key institution at this level. It’s global strategy in this area focuses on developing food and agricultural policies that are aligned to promoting public health and multisectorial policies that promote physical activity, as well as generally being an information provider.
  • A joint program of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization, the experience of the Codex Alimentarius Commission highlights the challenges at international level. The Commission was set up to help governments protect the health of consumers and ensure fair trade practices in the food trade.
  • But challenges and obstacles persist. For example, “industry representatives hugely outnumber representatives from public interest groups, resulting in an imbalance between the goals of trade and consumer protection.”
Obesity is a complex condition, one with serious social and psychological dimensions, that affects virtually all age and socioeconomic groups and threatens to overwhelm both developed and developing countries. In 1995, there were an estimated 200 million obese adults worldwide and another 18 million under-five children classified as overweight. As of 2000, the number of obese adults has increased to over 300 million. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the obesity epidemic is not restricted to industrialized societies; in developing countries, it is estimated that over 115 million people suffer from obesity-related problems.
Generally, although men may have higher rates of overweight, women have higher rates of obesity. For both, obesity poses a major risk for serious diet-related noncommunicable diseases, including diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and stroke, and certain forms of cancer. Its health consequences range from increased risk of premature death to serious chronic conditions that reduce the overall quality of life.

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