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Rise in obesity hits United Nations goals on diet-related diseases
United Nations goals on diet-related disease will fail to be met because of the soaring numbers of people becoming obese or overweight, with almost 1 billion of the world’s adults projected to be obese by 2025.
Concern over the rise in diabetes, heart disease, cancer and other conditions fuelled by obesity led to a UN summit in 2011, where the World Health Organisation (WHO) was commissioned to set targets to bring down the alarming rate of weight gain across the planet. It set a goal for 2025 of no increase in obesity or diabetes beyond the levels of 2010.
However, new statistics suggest the world will spectacularly fail to meet the target, says the World Obesity Federation (WOF).
In 2010, 11.5% of adults, or 565 million people, were obese. By 2014, that had already risen to 13% (670 million).
WOF, analysing the data before the first World Obesity Day on Sunday (11th October), says that if the trajectory does not change, 17% of adults will be obese by 2025. There will be 170 million adults with a BMI above 35, which is the threshold for urgent medical treatment, such as gastric surgery, to reduce the amount people can eat.
Adding in those who are overweight as well as obese, by 2025 there will be about 2.7 billion with excess weight, up from 2 billion in 2010.
Dr Tim Lobstein, WOF’s Director of Policy, explains “what we have seen is, on the WHO’s own estimates, a pretty dramatic increase from 2010 to 2014.
“On their own figures, they are shooting upwards and if we were to carry on without doing anything, things can only get dramatically worse.”
Behind the world’s weight gain is the rapid transition from traditional foods, often grown in the community, to modern urban diets – and especially the take-up of sugary soft drinks and snacks. Increased sedentary behaviour is also a major issue.
The WOF blames multinationals food companies (often known as ‘Big Food’) and their marketing, with Dr Lobstein stating “their marketing strategies are to reach further and further into developing countries, to find ways they can increase their market share amongst even the lowest income populations.”
Obesity rates look to be levelling off in the wealthier countries of North America and Europe, although there is no sign of a downturn and the statistics disguise alarming differences between the rich and the poor within those nations. But developing countries have shown an escalation in obesity rates never seen before. The United States no longer leads the world in obesity, having been overtaken by some 18 states, from the Caribbean to the Middle East and the Pacific islands.
Child obesity figures are also rising in many developing countries, particularly in the Middle East, Latin America, China and parts of South East Asia, which means there will eventually be further worsening of the adult figures.
A big problem is the assumption that children in developing countries are under-nourished and need more calories. Even where that has been true, says Dr Lobstein, giving children highly calorific sugary drinks and snacks is not the answer. In Mexico, which has some of the highest levels of child obesity in the world, in 2012 the two largest contributors to children’s energy intake were milk – much of it sweetened milk drinks – and sugar-sweetened soft
Despite a reputation for sport and outdoor living, Australia has one of the fattest populations on the planet. Its rate of obesity is the second-fastest growing in the world, and the fastest among women, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
A WOF survey showed Australia now has 62 severely obese people per 1,000 adults, up from 55 in 2010 and with a prediction that almost 80% of the population will be overweight or obese by 2025.
Obesity Policy Coalition (OPC) Executive Manager Jane Martin explains “we’ve engineered exercise out of our lives.
“There’s a real problem with diet, and highly processed foods are very cheap, highly promoted and easily available.”
Martin, whose background is in public health and tobacco policy, said that of particular concern was the fact that more people were moving from the “overweight category to the obese category”.
Diseases associated with obesity and being overweight have financial impacts as well as health ones. An Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle study in 2005 estimated an annual indirect cost of $21 billion and a direct cost of $35.6 billion to the economy.
Regional and remote-living Australians are already about 15% more likely to be obese than metropolitan residents, and in 2011 a survey named Ararat as the fattest town in Victoria.
With almost 60% of the town’s population obese and the town often referred to as ‘Arafat’, 12 months later its unwelcome status prompted a visit from Channel 10’s weight-loss reality show, The Biggest Loser, and the community came together to turn the numbers around.
The appearance on The Biggest Loser gave the town of 8,000 people the financial means to launch their own health kick.
In the wake The Biggest Loser focussing on obesity issues in the town earlier this year, a groundbreaking public health campaign has set about targeting education and physical activity.
The campaign has seen Ararat go from being one of the fattest towns in Australia to now being close to the national average.
The people of Ararat show that concerted focus, mentoring and motivation can change a whole community's behaviour, at least in the short-term.
Explaining that the campaign has lessons for all of Australia, Ararat Rural City Council Community Development & Client Services Manager Angela Hunt told the ABC "we have put a lot of effort into activity, physical activity ... now we are getting some gains there we have to keep going. We also have to put some focus on nutrition.
“Health and wellbeing is now front of mind for people when it wasn’t before. As soon as this stuff started to happen we saw a lot more people out walking and moving and trying to make changes.”
As a result, the Council has set up more walking tracks and outdoor exercise statations.
Hunt adds “some are just starting out now, and some have been going for two years.
“By having waves of new people … it kind of re-motivates those who have been at it for a couple of years, and there’s something really powerful about people helping other people.”
The OPC is lobbying for Federal Government intervention in the form of a tax on sugary drinks, restrictions on marketing of junk food when kids can see it, and labelling on food in supermarkets and in fast-food outlets.
Lower image: Fitness programs at YMCA Ararat.
29th September 2015 - HEART FOUNDATION HIGHLIGHTS MASSIVE DANGER FOR ‘OVERWEIGHT’ DARWIN
1st February 2015 - INVESTING IN WELLNESS CAN REDESIGN WELFARE
14th October 2014 - ABC REPORTS ON ARARAT’S ACTIVITY TRANSFORMATION
24th February 2014 - HEART FOUNDATION RESEARCH SHOW HEALTH RISKS INCREASING AS AUSTRALIA GETS HEAVIER
9th February 2014 - NEW PHYSICAL ACTIVITY GUIDELINES DOUBLE RECOMMENDED ADULT ACTIVITY LEVELS
2nd September 2011 - GLOBAL GOVERNMENTS MUST 'GET TOUGH ON OBESITY'
23rd April 2011 - LEISURE INC. TACKLES CHILD OBESITY IN BAHRAIN
5th October 2010 - ASSOCIATIONS JOINTLY ENDORSE NEW GUIDELINES FOR EXERCISE INTENSITY
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