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Has Obesity Become A Greater Risk To Global Health Than Hunger?

4 months ago

5746  0
Posted on Mar 19, 2024, 6 p.m.

A study published in the Lancet led by Imperial’s School of Public Health suggests that obesity is now a greater threat to global health than hunger. Finding that more than 1 in 8 people (more than 1 billion people of the 8 billion global population) are clinically obese as the number of obese people has passed one billion for the first time, making obesity the leading form of malnutrition worldwide.

Most people are not aware that obesity and being underweight are both forms of malnutrition because in both cases the people are not getting the right amounts of vitamins, minerals, nutrients, and types of calories that are required to be healthy. The study suggests that obesity is now the leading form of malnutrition, with the number of people who are underweight around the globe decreasing to under 550 million people. 

“It is very concerning that the epidemic of obesity that was evident among adults in much of the world in 1990 is now mirrored in school-aged children and adolescents,” said senior study author Majid Ezzati, a professor in the School of Public Health at Imperial College London in a released statement. “At the same time, hundreds of millions are still affected by undernutrition, particularly in some of the poorest parts of the world. To successfully tackle both forms of malnutrition it is vital we significantly improve the availability and affordability of healthy, nutritious foods.”

According to the study, around the world experts are warning that our children are paying the toll for adequate action against obesity by world leaders, pointing out that those under the age of 18 account for an estimated 160 million (four times what it was in 1990) of those who are now obese, and the number keeps increasing. An additional 880 million adults were considered to be obese which brings the total to 1.04 billion out of the World’s eight billion people, and this number continues to increase as well. 

These alarming rates were found in an analysis conducted by a global team of researchers who were led by Imperial College London and the World Health Organisation, which also revealed that the proportion of women who are obese has doubled since 1990 to around 1 in 5 and it has tripled in men to reach almost 1 in 7. 

In 1990 only 226 million people were obese, that is less than 1 in 20, including 31 million children. Since 1990 the number of underweight people has gone from 440 million to 347 million adults, and 219 million children to 185 million. 

America may not be on the top of the list, but it has seen very significant increases in the prevalence of obesity, and it has higher rates than other wealthy peer nations, placing the country as the 36th in the world for highest obesity rates for women and 10th for men. Among children, America is ranked 22nd highest in the world for obesity among girls and 26th for boys. For comparison with another peer wealthy nation, the UK is ranked 87th for obesity around the world for women and 55th for men.

“These figures will be as alarming to parents as they are to the NHS,” said Prof Simon Kenny, the NHS clinical director for children. “Obesity affects every human organ system, and so at a young age can have a major impact on a child’s life, increasing their risk of Type 2 diabetes, cancer, mental health issues and many other illnesses, which can lead to shorter and unhappier lives.”

“Continued joined-up action by industry and wider society is needed if we are to avoid a ticking health timebomb for the future,” added Kenny.

Prof Tim Spector, the founder of nutrition company Zoe, told the House of Lords’ select committee on food, diet, and obesity, that the UK government’s current guidelines were “hopelessly out of date”. 

“They are still proposing that people have low-fat spreads instead of whole foods or cheese or whatever, so very behind the times,” said Spector. “There’s nothing in there about eating whole foods instead of heavily processed foods. Even the NHS guidelines are very out of date. They state things like ‘you should never miss a meal, and you should snack regularly throughout the day’, and again focus on low-fat foods which all recent evidence and virtually every nutrition colleague I speak to doesn’t believe.”

These data come from an analysis looking at 222 million people in more than 190 countries from 3,663 studies. It reveals that obesity is most prevalent in low-income and middle-income countries, particularly those in the Middle East, North Africa, Polynesia, Micronesia, and the Caribbean such as the island nations of Tonga and American Samoa where over 3 in 4 people are obese (over 60% of adults and more than 30% of children).

W.H.O.’s director general Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus calls on the food industry to play its part in combating the obesity crisis. Saying that he believes it will “require the cooperation of the private sector, which must be accountable for the health impacts of their products”.

Obesity costs billions of dollars every year, it increases the risk of diabetes and heart disease, and it is the second biggest preventable cause of certain cancers. Scientists say that more needs to be done, recommending a ban on advertisements for junk food, the introduction of warning labels to be placed on unhealthy foods, and levies to be placed on sugary food/beverages as well as high-fat foods.

“This new study highlights the importance of preventing and managing obesity from early life to adulthood, through diet, physical activity, and adequate care, as needed,” said Ghebreyesus. “Getting back on track to meet the global targets for curbing obesity will take the work of governments and communities, supported by evidence-based policies from WHO and national public health agencies. Importantly, it requires the cooperation of the private sector, which must be accountable for the health impacts of their products.”

 “A healthy nutrition transition that enhances access to nutritious foods is needed to address the remaining burden of underweight while curbing and reversing the increase in obesity,” the study authors wrote.

As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before changing your wellness routine. This article is not intended to provide a medical diagnosis, recommendation, treatment, or endorsement. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. 

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T.W. at WHN.

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