The World Health Organization (WHO) is sounding the obesity alarm again. So is the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The situation right now is already problematic, but the projected rates for obesity are far worse.
If the OECD is right, obesity levels will be particularly high in the United States, Mexico and England. By 2030, far more than 45 percent of Americans in the U.S. will be obese. Mexico will hit 40 percent by then, and England 35.
In the 34 OECD countries, more than one in two adults and one in six children are overweight or obese. The risk differs, depending on the nationality, gender and social status. For instance less educated women are two to three times more likely to be overweight than those with a higher education level.
Health organizations call for more education on nutrition, fiscal policies which increase the price of unhealthy products, and communication policies “to empower people to make healthier choices”, as the OECD puts it. Comprehensive food labels are important, media campaigns about healthy and unhealthy nutrition can help, and reinforcing regulations designed to keep unhealthy food and drinks away from children.
The Germans generally become older and older. Many lead a healthier lifestyle. But the problem of obesity has not been tackled in Germany either. Here, especially boys and men are turning fatter.
German women are actually better than the European average, according to the WHO. The U.N. organization says 55 percent of all women in Europe were overweight, while the rate among German women was 50 percent. But among men, far more than half, a total of 65 percent, weigh too much.
The development is so concerning, many believe the government needs to do more in order to fight the issue of an exaggerated intake of calories, and to promote movement such as gymnastics or other sports. Watching football matches on TV does not count as movement.
According to the WHO, there are effective measures governments or legislators can take. For instance, some countries have introduced a sugar tax. The effects turned out to be positive.
Worldwide, as many as 1.9 billion adults were overweight in 2016, 650,000 of them obese. On a global level, the difference between men (39 percent overweight) and women (40 percent) was not too big. Since 1975, the prevalence of obesity has tripled.
Among children, things look worse: In 1975, 1 percent of all children and adolescents aged 5 to 19 were obese. In 2016, those rates were a lot higher: 6 percent of all girls and 8 percent of the boys.
“The fundamental cause of obesity and overweight is an energy imbalance between calories consumed and calories expended”, the WHO says. Globally, there has been an increased intake of energy-dense foods that are high in fat. At the same time, an increase in physical inactivity has been registered.
Obesity is being connected to cardiovascular diseases such as heart disease and stroke, which were the leading cause of death in 2012. Diabetes, osteoarthritis and even cancers can be caused by being overweight or obese.
The WHO wants the food industry to become active as well, by reducing the fat, sugar and salt content of its processed foods products. On an individual level, the right strategy is the following: Stop staring at screens, get moving and avoid sugar and fat. Amen.