More than 10 percent of the world’s population is obese, and the rate has been rising for the past 30 years. Obesity leads to millions of premature deaths and widespread health problems. The problem is global, including regions with food shortages, such as Africa. The New England Journal of Medicine recently (June 12, 2017) reported a study of obesity in 195 countries. They report that worldwide 107.7 million children and 603.7 adults were obese. This is true across all socio-demographic groups. The United States has the dubious distinction of having the highest level of childhood obesity in the 195 countries in the study. The implications of obesity include huge health and economic costs.
There is no question that obesity is a factor in cardiovascular disease, diabetes, kidney disease and musculoskeletal disorders. Not only do obese people live with disease and disability but they die at a greater rate. From 1990 to2015 the death rate related to obesity increased 28.3%.
Since the rise in obesity-related disabilities and death cuts across all socio-demographic, cultural, geographic and economic lines, the problem cannot be said to be a function of income or wealth. Nor was it found to be the decreased amount of physical activity in the population. What, then, is causing the rise? The answer seems to be the food we eat. Over the past three decades over-processed inexpensive food with scanty nutritional value has become more accessible and available – and is heavily marketed. Indeed, nutritious food is more expensive and harder to procure.
This is not new news, but the large scale and scope of the study underlines the importance of taking seriously the content of the food we eat. Efforts to limit access to unhealthy food, such as improving school meals, have not been successful or sustainable. Countries are literally not putting their money where their mouth is. If we don’t improve this issue, our children will become increasingly at risk, and increasing drug dependent to control their heart disease and diabetes. Our health care costs will rise even higher! This is a health problem that can be addressed. It seems criminal and foolish not to.