Obesity pandemic

obese man

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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 Article written by Fergus Walsh Fergus Walsh Medical correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    Something else to panic about? all the latest figures from uk and usa don't show increases. Deaths from heart disease have fallen and life expectancy continues to improve. the government should leave people alone and try to do the jobs they are voted in to do like managing the economy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    So turn up at the till with some clothes and how much you pay depends on your waist measurement!!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    warming to my waist measurement idea...

    .... and of course under 26in for women and under 30in for men should also pay an increased tax too! If you are going to fine fatties then skinnies should also be fined, both are damaging to health! (And costly to our shared NHS!!!)

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    Hit 400 characters again!

    We need bold, italic, underline, blockquote, links and tables as minimum with images, graphics and video too, if possible.

    on obesity...

    Having said what I did earlier(above) - obesity is a problem, but taxing food will not help!

    Perhaps a special tax on big waisted clothes would. Women over 32in waist and men over 34in pay 50% more, and over 38 and 40 100% more!

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    on obesity...

    There still is a problem of definition so the figures quoted are an absurd nonsense at best and misleading at worst. Olympic athletes in muscle power sports will be counted as extremely obese whereas unfit near anorexics will be OK. Some measure of the bone and muscle size needs to be taken into account before anything like this is published again as what is published is wrong!


Comments 5 of 40



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