MORE than two billion adults and children globally are now overweight or obese and suffer health problems because of their weight. This means one-third of the world’s total population is carrying excess weight. And if that weren’t bad enough, you don’t have to be diagnosed as being obese to be at risk of dying from illnesses related to excess weight, suggests a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Among the 195 countries and territories included in the study the US has the greatest percentage of obese children and young adults, at 13 percent, while an Arab country, Egypt, led in terms of adult obesity, with almost 35 percent.
To put the results in context, what the latest data reveals is that the number of people affected by obesity has doubled since 1980 in 73 countries, and has continued to rise across most other countries. Not surprisingly, the lowest obesity rates were seen in two of the world’s poorest countries, Bangladesh and Vietnam, at one percent. But these countries are the exception. Also unsurprisingly, the people who suffer the most from obesity are women across all age groups, which correlates with previous findings on obesity. Then there are the children. It was only natural that in terms of sheer numbers, the large population sizes of China and India meant they had the highest numbers of obese children, with 15.3 million and 14.4 million, respectively. While the percentages of children who were obese were lower than adults, the rate at which their numbers have increased was greater, signifying more risk in the future if nothing is done to curb the problem. The problems include increased availability, accessibility and affordability of energy dense foods aka poor diets, along with intense marketing of such foods, plus reduced levels and opportunities for physical activity that has come with increased urbanization are all causes for weight gain.
As is expected, an increasing number of obese people globally are dying from health problems linked to being overweight, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer and other life-threatening conditions. During the past decade, researchers have proposed a range of solutions to reduce obesity. Among such interventions are restricting the advertisement of unhealthy foods to children, improving school meals, using taxation to reduce consumption of unhealthy foods and providing subsidies to increase intake of healthy foods, and using supply-chain incentives to increase the production of healthy foods.
In recent years, some countries have started to implement some of these policies but unfortunately no major population success has yet been shown. Prevention services leading up to the onset of cardiovascular disease, such as blood sugar monitoring, or care after a heart attack, or stroke, have improved in developed countries. But these service are still relatively expensive and are not currently the norm in most low- and middle-income countries.
Over time, eating can become habitual. We don’t even check in to see if we’re hungry. We either eat mindlessly or we eat based on cravings. People should notice when their bodies signal that they are hungry or whether they are just eating out of habit. They should focus on chewing their food, taking their time, being in tune with their body when it signals that they are hungry or full, and being aware of how their food appears, smells and tastes. It’s called mindful eating whose concepts have been introduced in hospital programs and health care facilities across the US.
Obesity levels have risen in almost all countries, irrespective of their income level. As such, excess body weight is one of the most challenging public health problems of our time. In 2013, the World Health Organization called for zero increase in the prevalence of overweight among children and in the prevalence of obesity among adults. However, given the current study, achieving this goal appears unlikely in the near future.