We live in a world affected by gluttony. To be precise, the world is not affected by gluttony, but many of the people living on this planet. This is a fact in many areas of people´s lives, but in this post I am going to focus on nutrition.
According to the WHO, worldwide obesity has doubled since 1980. Today, more than 1.4 billion adults out of 7,2 billion are overweight – nearly 20 % of all people. 35 % of adults aged 20+ were overweight (BMI >25) in 2008, and 11 % were obese (BMI >30). Out of these, 65 % of world population live in countries where overweight and obesity kill more people than underweight.
Furthermore, overweight and obesity are the fifth leading risk for deaths globally. Each year, almost 3 million adults die due to overweight or obesity in addition to the fact that many diseases, including diabetes, diverse heart diseases and certain cancer burdens are interlinked with obesity.
The cause of overweight and obesity is an energy imbalance between calory consumption and expansion. Worldwide, energy-dense foods high in fat, are increasingly being consumed. Moreover, physical inactivity is becoming more common due to diverse reasons such as increased urbanization. Who is responsible? The individual personally? Or society? WHO´s research indicates that changes in dietary and physical activity patterns are often results of environmental and societal changes associated with development and lack of supportive policies in sectors including health, agriculture, transport, urban planning, environment, food processing, distribution, marketing and education.
Individually people have the possibility to limit energy intake from total fats and sugars (and prefer healthy fats), consume more fruit and vegetables, whole grains and nuts, and exercise regularly.
People must have access to a healthy lifestyle. At a societal level, therefore, people should have the possibility to live in a supportive environment, enabled through sustained political commitment and the collaboration between public and private stakeholders. Physical activity and healthy diets should be available, affordable, and easily accessible to everyone, including the poorest people.
In general, the food industry plays a significant role in the promotion of healthy diets, e.g. by:
– Reducing fat, sugar, and salt contents in processed foods
– Ensuring healthy and nutritious food to be available and affordable to everyone
– Practicing responsible marketing
(Source: WHO. Quoted 17.3.2014).
“Never go to excess, but let moderation be your guide”. (Marcus Tullius Cicero)
Simultaneously to the global overweight and obesity crisis, almost one billion people worldwide are undernourished. Developing countries account for 98 % of the world´s undernourished people. 2/3 of these live in just seven countries: Bangladesh, China, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia and Pakistan, out of which over 40 % live in China and India alone. Sub-Saharan Africa, with its 30 % share, remains highest on the list of undernourished people. Today, Sub-Saharan Africa produces less food per person than it did 30 years ago. The number of undernourished people in the region has more than doubled since 1970.
According to the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations), these numbers indicate a deeper structural problem threatening the ability to achieve internationally agreed goals on worldwide hunger reduction. FAO suggests governments to increase investments in agriculture, expand safety nets, social assistance programmes, and enhance income-generating activities for the poor in rural and urban areas.
Furthermore, the World Food Summit and the FAO indicate that the rapid growth in agricultural production during the past decades has enabled the world to produce enough food to provide every individual with more than 2700 Kcal per day. This level is more than sufficient to feed the whole world population. (Source: FAO/The World Bank Institute. Quoted 17.3.2014).
It seems that the imbalance (number of overweight/obese people vs. undernourished people worldwide) is caused and affected by several different attributes, including not only inefficient and poor infrastructure in some countries, but also a general lack of will to improve nutrition-related issues in many countries. How should these problems be solved?