Global obesity rates will ‘crush public health systems’

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The number of people in the world who are obese or overweight has topped 2.1bn, up from 875m in 1980. And, [s]BBC News[/s] reports, the latest figures in [s]The Lancet[/s] show that not one country is succeeding in treating it. Experts attribute the rise ‘modernisation’, causing a decline in ‘physical inactivity on all levels’. The researchers were led by the [b]Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation[/b] (IHME) in Washington, in a study they said is the most comprehensive to date. Scientists analysed data from surveys, such as from the [b]World Health Organisation[/b], government websites, and reviewed ‘all articles’ about the numbers of obese or overweight people in the world. The study said rates of obesity were rising across the world, although the rates in developed countries remain the highest. It called for ‘urgent global leadership’ to combat risk factors such asexcessive calorie intake, inactivity, and ‘active promotion of food consumption by industry’.

The study showed [b]South Africa[/b] has an obesity rate of 42% for women and 13.5% for men which is ‘the highest overweight and obesity rate in [b]sub-Saharan Africa[/b].’ [s]Health24[/s] reports that ‘seven in 10 women (69.3 %) and four in 10 men (38.8%) are overweight or obese. For SA children, 7% of boys and 9.6% of girls are obese.’ Since 1980, no country has successfully decreased its rate of obesity, while the rise globally has been ‘significant, rapid and widespread’.

Huge increases in the proportion of obese people in [b]Middle Eastern[/b] countries including [b]Egypt[/b] and [b]Saudi Arabia[/b] have added to existing burdens in Western countries and [b]Asian[/b] giants including [b]China[/b] and [b]India[/b], reports [s]The Independent[/s]. Professor Emmanuela Gakidou, who led the study, said that overweight and obesity was a ‘major global health risk’ which, unlike comparable problems such as smoking and malnutrition, was not decreasing. However, she added there was some evidence that of a ‘plateau’ in adult obesity rates which may suggest the epidemic is nearing its peak.

Obesity rates in [b]Australia[/b] and [b]New Zealand[/b] have soared by more than 80% in the past 33 years, the biggest increase in the groundbreaking survey, says a [s]Sydney Morning Herald[/s] report. The findings, which reveal almost one in three Australians is obese, intensifies pressure on the government to restrict junk food marketing, restore the healthy food-star rating system and force companies to cut sugar and fat in processed food and drink. ‘Waiting for a cure is not possible,’ says Rob Moodie, the professor of public health at the [b]University of Melbourne[/b]. ‘The public health system will be crushed by the obesity crisis and the rise in cancer, heart disease and diabetes.’ Australia is one of the fattest nations, jumping almost 40 places to 25th in obesity ranking, just behind the [b]US[/b] but well ahead of [b]France, Finland, Germany[/b] and [b]Japan[/b].

There is some debate about using the [b]Body Mass Index[/b], a scale scientists use to determine whether someone is overweight – experts say it is not the most accurate tool to determine whether one needs to lose some pounds, but it’s a useful measurement when studying global populations.

Dr John Millar, vice-president of the [b]Public Health Association of British Columbia[/b] says in a [s]CBC[/s] report, ‘as a population measure, it’s very good for measuring obesity. So yes, it’s perfectly valid.’ Jennifer Kuk, associate professor at [b]Toronto’s York University School of Kinesiology and Health Science[/b], said that people may not be aware that society is becoming more overweight, because people’s goal weight has shifted upward over time. ‘So that means what you think is normal and what you want to weigh has actually also drifted up,’ she said.

A new [b]Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development[/b] report shows that a starving economy is adding to the world’s obesity rate. [s]CTV News[/s] reports that the study looked at the ‘obesity epidemic’ in 34 countries, finding the global average of obese adults to be nearly one in five (18%). That shows rates have nearly doubled since 1980, when fewer than 1 in 10 people in OECD countries were obese. It’s simple to explain, says David Lau, an obesity expert from the [b]University of Calgary[/b]. ‘If we hit a financial crisis where money is tight, people tend to eat less fruit and vegetables because they’re the more expensive and perishable items that people can avoid.’ He added that fast food restaurants offer cheap food that doesn’t need to be prepared, which is appealing to those stressed out and looking for work.

Children who regularly eat breakfast and dinner with their parents are considerably less likely to be overweight. [s]The Independent[/s] reports that this is according to a new study from the [b]University of Adger[/b] in [b]Norway[/b], which found also that togetherness at mealtimes was a marker for ‘family cohesion’, which carried other health benefits. The effect was similar, but slightly smaller, for dinner. But, the report says, intriguingly, the same effect was not seen in children who regularly ate lunch with their parents.

Dr Frøydis Vik, from the [b]University of Adger’s Department of Public Health[/b], said that the findings suggested families who ate together generally had a healthier lifestyle.

Full BBC News report
The Lancet study
Full Health24 report
Full Sydney Morning Herald report
Full report in The Independent
Full CBC report
Full CTV report
OECD report
Full report in The Independent
IJBNPA abstract


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