Obesity pandemic

obese man

Related Stories

The rising problem of global obesity was driven home to me recently in - of all places - Sierra Leone.

This is one of the world's poorest countries with among the highest rates of malnutrition and child mortality.

And yet, walking around a hospital ward, a doctor told me that as well as malaria, pneumonia and all the other serious health challenges, there was another emerging problem - obesity.

I don't remember seeing many overweight people but the doctor assured me there was serious concern about the potential for future weight-related health problems - cardiovascular disease, diabetes and so on.

Double burden

So it was no surprise to see a raft of research papers in the Lancet discussing the need for global action to tackle the obesity pandemic.

Most developing countries are facing a dual challenge - that of under and over nutrition; the former gets far more publicity because it is an immediate and often life-threatening danger.

Obesity stores up a host of health problems for the future. The World Health Organization (WHO) calls it a "double burden" of disease and says: "It is not uncommon to find under-nutrition and obesity existing side-by-side within the same country, the same community and the same household".

The WHO says that 65% of the world's population lives in countries where overweight and obesity kills more people than underweight.

Passive overconsumption

The rise in urban living, the shift away from manual labour, the increase in car use and the availability of cheap energy-dense food are among many factors behind the increase.

Start Quote

The present epidemic of obesity is not really down to laziness or overeating”

End Quote Sir David King

One of the research teams led by Professor Boyd Swinburn from Deakin University in Melbourne described the "passive overconsumption" of energy: "The simultaneous increases in obesity in almost all countries seem to be driven mainly by changes in the global food system, which is producing more processed, affordable, and effectively marketed food than ever before.

In a comment article attached to the Lancet papers, Sir David King, the UK government's former Chief Scientific Advisor recalls the influential Foresight study published in 2007:

"One of the key findings of the report was that individuals had much less choice in the matter of their weight than they would assume, and that the present epidemic of obesity is not really down to laziness or overeating but that our biology has stepped out of kilter with society."

Eat less, move more

Obesity is a global issue, which requires global solutions.

Clearly individual responsibility is key, but a call for leadership is being urged in the run-up to a UN meeting on non-communicable diseases in New York next month.

"Eat less, move more" maybe the simplistic answer, but today's research suggests that the issue is far more complex requiring effort from government, industry and society.

Fergus Walsh, Medical correspondent Article written by Fergus Walsh Fergus Walsh Medical correspondent

Boy has ears created from ribs localisation->translate("watch"); ?>

A nine-year-old boy who was born without ears has had a pair created from his ribs.

Watch Fergus's report

More on This Story

Related Stories


Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    One of the problems with the current way we live is that 'real' food that you make up from ingredients is expensive and uses energy that is expensive too. So people will fill up on the cheaper easy to eat foods that do not require hours of cooking. Who can afford a nice roast beef joint with the range of vegetables? No many eat pizza with lot of cheese and 'fat' meat. Bring back real food

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    One of the reasons for the increase in obesity is that people associate good value with large portions. The UK Government is reluctant to take direct action but the public would benefit from a fat tax. The food companies would soon change their ingredients if they saw sales fall.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Telling people to "eat less" actually perpetuates this insanity. We need to change to whole, unprocessed or minimally processed foods. We need to eat MORE fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. You can eat as much as you want of a diet consisting of mostly vegetables and fruits, and actually lose weight by doing so.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    In the past, if we were bored & needed to entertain ourselves, we might take a walk or engage in some other activity. Now we just sit on our backsides and gawp at screens: laptop, tablet, smartphone. The idea of real activity in the real world rather than virtual 'activity' in the virtual world has never seemed so quaint. Ironic that the logo of the world's leading technology company is an apple.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    you could just leave people to eat what they want to, stop telling people what they cant eat or what they should eat, food never killed anyone, and if someone wants to get fat then its up to them. more people die on the roads but we dont ban cars do we


Comments 5 of 40


This entry is now closed for comments


BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.