Of all the nations in the developed world, the wealthiest nation — the United States — has the highest rates of overweight and obese citizens. More than a third of Americans are obese, and that number is predicted to rise to 50% by 2030. The prevalence of obesity — and the burden of disease caused by it — is not shared equally across the population. The poor have higher rates than the wealthy; the less educated have higher rates than the more educated; and certain minority groups — especially African-American and Hispanic women — have higher rates than other groups.
But obesity is not just an American problem. According to Joshua Keating, the “global waistline” is expanding:
A new report from the Britain-based Overseas Development Group on changing global diets finds that there are now more than twice as many overweight or obese people living in the developing world as in wealthy countries. Overall, the number of affected people in developing countries “more than tripled from around 250 million people in 1980 to 904 million in 2008. By contrast, the number of people who were overweight or obese in high-income countries increased 1.7 times over the same period.”
The Harvard School of Public Health adds some pediatric numbers to the discussion:
Obesity rates have been steadily rising in children, too: In 2010, 43 million preschool children were overweight or obese, a 60 percent increase since 1990
The developing world’s dramatic weight gain since 1980 is due primarily to two factors, says the report: richer diets and more sedentary lifestyles. More people in poorer countries are earning enough to move from diets built on cereals and tubers to diets rich in meat, fat and sugar, and now have increasingly stationary lives. That’s leading to rising global incidence of diseases like cancer, diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
“What has changed,” says the report, “is that the majority of the people who are overweight or obese today can be found in the developing, rather than the developed, world.”
You can begin to see the enormity of the problem, not just in terms of poor health, but also in economic terms. Not just in your own home, or your own community, or even in your own country — but globally! This is a complex problem that truly affects all of us. The first (and probably the easiest) step to improving the situation is to assess what and how we are eating as individuals and families. Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food, offers an interesting concept in the short video below:
“Eat anything you want, just cook it yourself.”