Obesity is a word that’s thrown around a lot in the news and media, especially in the United States. Reports are regularly announced that obesity rates are climbing in adults and children and obesity is now so prevalent that it’s been deemed an epidemic.
But one look at the statistics, both in developing and first world countries, and it’s no surprise that obesity is regularly in the news. The World Health Organization (WHO) states that worldwide obesity has nearly doubled since 1980 and as of 2008, 10 percent of the world was recorded as obese—that’s more than 500 million people.
In the United States, 67% of the population is either overweight or obese!
What is Obesity?
Obesity can be defined according to a person’s body mass index (BMI), which measures the amount fat in relation to height and weight. This unit of measurement is used because it applies across all ages for both men and women. Individuals with a BMI of 30 or greater are considered obese.
America the Obese
Obesity is commonly associated with large, wealthy countries like the United States. While first world countries do struggle with obesity, surprisingly, it is extremely small countries with low populations that have been recorded with the highest rates of obesity. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Cook Islands has one of the highest obesity rates at 64 percent. Other small countries such as Tonga (59.6 percent) and Palau (50.7 percent) are not far behind.
While small countries have the greatest rate of obesity, more populous countries also show very high-recorded rates. Recently, Mexico was announced as the most obese large country in the world, with an adult obesity rate of 32.8 percent. The United States holds a close second with a rate of 31.8 percent.
Cause & Effect
So what’s the obesity link between both extremely large and extremely small countries across the globe? According to experts, it all comes down to poor nutrition. Even in countries where there is no shortage of food, the quality and nutritional value of accessible food had plummeted.
What’s more, healthier foods have become increasingly more expensive and therefore harder to obtain for many. United Nations expert Olivier de Shutter noted this in a report on Mexican nutrition, saying, “The result is that for many Mexicans, particularly in urban areas or in the northern states, switching to healthier diets is becoming increasingly difficult.”
Just as diet plays a part in obesity, so does exercise. Many experts argue that as countries become more industrialized, people become more sedentary. For example, where once individuals worked on a farm doing physical labor, they now work in a factory or an office, sitting most of the day. When more calories are consumed than burned (during exercise), weight gain occurs and the risk for obesity begins.
Consequences of Obesity
The biggest consequences of obesity are health-related, which can lead to serious complications and even death. Individuals who are obese are at risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, musculoskeletal disorders like osteoarthritis, and cancer.
What’s more, developing and low-income countries often must face the obesity epidemic alongside an under nutrition epidemic. For many of these countries, accessible food is often high in sugar, fat, and salt, and low in nutritional value. The result is communities that are both overweight or obese and malnourished. This, in turn, only increases the risk of developing further health problems.
While obesity rates have spiked in recent years, it is a preventable illness. The most effective ways to prevent obesity are linked to diet and exercise. Many countries have petitioned to make nutritional food more accessible and unhealthy food less desirable. For example, Mexico recently passed a law that will impose a higher tax on junk foods and sugary drinks. Replacing foods high in fat, sugar and salt with food that contains high nutritional value can help to prevent obesity.