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In 2016, more than 1.9 billion adults were overweight,
and of these, more than 650 million were obese
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Obesity is often a matter of life and death because of the ways in which it interferes with our body’s functioning and the diseases it can cause. Since 1975, obesity has nearly tripled: in 2016, more than 1.9 billion adults, 18 years and older, were overweight and of these, more than 650 million were obese.
Obesity is “a medical condition described as excess body weight in the form of fat. When accumulated, this fat can lead to severe health impairments.” Given that 38 million children under the age of 5 were considered overweight or obese in 2019, what does the future hold?
According to WHO studies, most of the world’s population live in countries where overweight and obesity kills more people than underweight. Across low to middle and high-income countries, chronic disease and premature mortality are being directly attributed to our diet and lifestyle which is often too sedentary.
An overweight person may develop hypertension, type-2 diabetes and joint and muscle disorders, putting them at high risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), hypertension and type-2 diabetes. This is because excess fat can also affect an individual’s blood pressure and blood lipid levels and interferes with their ability to use insulin effectively in the management of blood sugar levels.
Globally, 58% of diabetes mellitus and 21% of chronic heart disease are attributable to a BMI above 21. Even a person who does not appear overweight has a stake in knowing their body mass index (BMI). This is measured by dividing a person’s weight by their height squared in metres. In adults, overweight is defined as a BMI of 25.0 to 29.9 kg/m2; obesity is defined as a BMI of 30.0 kg/m2 or more. Or calculate yours here.
The World Heart Federation (WHF) and the World Obesity Federation (WOF) have teamed up to spread awareness of obesity as a main driver of (CVD). WOF and WHF are establishing SCOPE (Strategic Centre for Obesity Professional Education) modules on CVD and obesity to equip health professionals with tools and resources for treating patients as well as free e-learning modules.
Getting an early start is one way to avert a looming obesity crisis. For example, at school, obesity and health risks can be integrated in teaching. School cafeterias can plan more healthful meals with less fat and less sugar. Many foods also have ‘hidden’ sugars and we end up more consuming more of it than we intend or realize. Unhealthy food habits can also have their roots in psychological drivers, for example, “emotional eating” leads to consumption of foods that provide a temporary feeling of satisfaction, much like a dangerous drug.
Health equality also means access to produce that is nutrient-rich and affordable. Too often, poor nutritional choices are forced because of low-income and quality food that is priced out of range. Changing this will take a multi-sectoral approach involving both health and economy policymakers, food producers, and advisors from across the wide spectrum of health and well-being.
There are many guidelines and resources to help us follow a healthy diet for which the standards are: low in saturated fats, salt, and refined carbohydrates but high in fruit and vegetables, with adequate whole grains, fish, and nuts.