Obesity—Becoming a Global Epidemic?
“LONG considered a by-product of modern life in rich, developed countries, obesity is spreading into developing countries as well,” reports the British medical journal The Lancet. It noted that nutrition experts now warn of “a global epidemic” of obesity-related diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, cancer, and cardiovascular disease.
With a tripling of the number of overweight men and a doubling of the number of overweight women in China in the past eight years, hypertension rates there are now similar to those in the United States. More than half of all newly diagnosed cases of diabetes occur in India and China. The diabetes level in Egypt is equal to that of the United States, and half the women in the country are now overweight. Mexico has had a rapid rise in obesity across all levels of society in every area of the country, with a consequent rise in diabetes. Even in very poor sub-Saharan African countries, obesity and diabetes are rising.
Although a diet of fatty fast foods may account for obesity in some countries, a major cause is that many manufacturers now add more sugar to foods “to make them taste better.” Additionally, Asian and African diets include more edible oils, with the consequent extra calories. Advanced technology in factories and in agriculture means that less physical labor is required to produce goods. People want to work less and have more leisure time. Now that computers and television are so popular, workers get less exercise, and “email has signalled the end of message-carrying and getting up to talk to colleagues.”
Since obesity is rising rapidly among schoolchildren too, especially in areas where recreation and physical activity have been reduced, there is an urgent need for teachers to be aware of the relationship between nutrition and academic performance. Gail Harrison, of the School of Public Health, University of California, warns that in addition to local prevention strategies, “a common agenda for prevention on a global basis, with the associated development of policy, expertise, and infrastructure, is essential” to cope with the epidemic of obesity and its associated diseases.