Very recently, we humans set a record that should make us pause. For the first time in human history, there are more obese people than underweight people on planet Earth. The United States, naturally, leads the world with 35% of American adults being obese (more than half of adults in the U.S. are either overweight or obese), but Laurie Burkitt says the Chinese are gaining fast:
The country is now No. 2 for obesity, with its number of obese residents outstripped only by the U.S. Its obesity rate has skyrocketed over the last three decades, resulting in 46 million obese Chinese adults and 300 million who are overweight, according to a study by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.
Published in the medical journal The Lancet, the study analyzed weight trends in 188 countries and found that more than 28% of Chinese adult men and 27% of the country’s adult women are overweight or obese.
Globally, the trend toward higher body weights and body mass indexes (BMI) doesn’t appear to be slowing despite growing awareness of the causes and costs of obesity. In fact, the new study in The Lancet shows that the world’s obesity rate climbed from 2.6% in 1975 (105 million people) to 8.9% in 2014 (641 million people). By 2025, the study predicts that the global rate of obesity will reach 18% in men and 21% in women. That’s one in five adults, or 1.1 billion human inhabitants. The U.S. will probably continue to lead the way, with 43% of women and 45% of men expected to be obese ten years from now. John Tozzi explains how the obesity rate has more than doubled for women and tripled for men over the past 40 years:
Behind the global spike is greater access to cheap food as incomes have risen. “It’s been very easy, as countries get out of poverty, to eat a lot, and to eat a lot of unhealthy calories,” said Majid Ezzati, the study’s senior author and chair of global environmental health at Imperial College London. The price of fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are often “noticeably more than highly processed carbohydrates,” he said.
It wasn’t long ago that we considered world hunger and malnutrition as scourges which needed to be eliminated. And we shouldn’t forget that undernutrition and malnutrition continue to be problems which are getting worse in some places, including Africa and South Asia. While it is clear is that undernutrition causes people to be underweight, malnutrition causes both underweight and overweight in the population.
More people today are eating more food than those who aren’t eating enough. One might think that would be a reason to celebrate. Apparently not. We seem to have overshot the mark.
The PediaBlog has looked extensively at the epidemic of obesity. It’s a problem where modern medicine offers very little in terms of cures. The key to eliminating obesity — and the enormous psychological, social, economic, and health care burdens it incurs — is in its prevention. Preventing obesity, we know, begins at birth — and maybe before then. The formula is not complicated: Be active, keep moving, and, to quote author Michael Pollan, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”