photo: Gideon/Creative Commons
Lest you think obesity is uniquely an American problem, or one of the wealthy nations of the world, a new study in The Lancet puts that misconception to rest. As the BBC reports, Mexico, South Africa and Brazil already have a greater percentage of overweight and obese adults than is the average across all the OCED countries. Mexico has 70% of adults overweight and obese; South Africa is in the low 50% range; Brazil just tops 50% and Russia is just under it. Across the entire OECD half of adults are fat. In China that rate drops to slightly under 30% and in India it's about 15%.
We've shown you before charts on differing rates of obesity around the world which corroborate this so this isn't really new information. Nor is it really the reason I wanted to point out the study from The Lancet. What caught my eye were the proposed solutions.
All the talk about cost below is because The Lancet frames the debate in terms of these developing nations being unable to cope financially with the rising rates of ill-health that accompany rising percentages of overweight and obese people.
The report recommends that these countries act now to slow the increase, with media campaigns promoting healthier lifestyles, taxes and subsidies to improve diets, tighter government regulation of food labeling and restrictions on food advertising. Its authors calculate that doing this would add one million years of "life in good health" to India's population, and four million to China over the next 20 years.The cost would be considerable but the OECD insists that the strategy would pay for itself in terms of reduced health care costs, becoming cost-effective at worst within 15 years.
Subsidies are part of the problem, but not the sum of it. Chart: Good Medicine
Consumer Awareness is Only Part of Problem - Broken Food Production is the Bigger Issue
The thing that gets me here, is that while media campaigns promoting healthier lifestyles, better food labeling and advertising restrictions are good things and shifting subsidies to improve diets is no doubt needed as well (remember the chart about what gets more subsidies, vegetables or meat?)--why do we continue to beat around the bush when talking about food and health?
Raising awareness about what food people should be eating only goes so far when the industrialized food system is itself to blame, when people have difficulty accessing (geographically or financially) healthy food and when the food production systems being pushed on many developing nations--genetically modified, monoculture, and export-led agriculture--continue to break apart the eating traditions and food cultures of these places, just as the food culture of many rich nations has been broken apart by industrialized food production.
In short it's not just the Western diet that's the problem, the dominant method of producing food directly contributes to the dietary breakdown.
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More on Obesity:
Obesity, Chemical Exposure Causing Some Girls to Hit Puberty at Age 7
Fighting Obesity, NYC Looks to Regulate the Use of Food Stamps
US Adult Obesity Rate May Hit 42% Before Plateauing