The world population is becoming rounder, and each year the situation is worsening. The World Health Organization (WHO) believes that we are in the grip of a global epidemic, and it is estimated by the year 2020 obesity will be the single biggest killer on the planet.
Professor Philip James, Chairman of the International Obesity Task Force, said that “we now know that the biggest global health burden for the world is dietary in origin and is compounded by association with low physical activity levels. This is going to plague us for the next 30 years.”
Currently at least 300 million adults worldwide are obese — a body mass index (BMI) of over 30 — and over one billion are overweight (BMI of more than 27.3 percent for women and 27.8 percent or more for men). The problem affects virtually all ages and socioeconomic groups.
A Global Issue
Obesity rates have risen at least threefold since 1980 in some areas of North America, the UK, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, the Pacific Islands, Australasia and China. In many developing countries, obesity coexists with malnutrition: A survey of 83,000 Indian women found that although 33 percent were malnourished, 12 percent were overweight or obese. The adoption of industrialized foods and food preferences, together with drastically decreased physical activity levels are contributing to this growing problem.
Of particular concern is the increasing rate of child obesity. Health officials around the world have begun estimating each country’s rate. The Chinese government calculates that one in ten city-dwelling children is now obese. In Japan, obesity among nine-year-old children has tripled.
Why is this happening?
Obesity mainly is a result of changes in diet and physical activity. In the developing world the rise in obesity due to these factors is known as the ‘nutrition transition.’ Urban areas, being much further along in the transition than rural areas, experience higher rates of obesity. Cities offer a greater range of food, usually at lower prices, and city work often demands less physical exertion than rural work.