Obesity: not just a rich-world problem | The Economist

The Economist
Published on Jan 24, 2018
Obesity is a global problem, but more people are getting fatter in developing countries than anywhere else. If current trends continue, obese children will soon outnumber those who are undernourished.

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People are fatter than ever. Obesity has more than doubled since 1980. But the biggest rise is in the developing world.

Anyone with a body mass index, or BMI, over 30 is considered obese. The higher your BMI, the greater your risk of developing weight-related diseases like diabetes and heart disease.

Nearly half of the world’s overweight and obese children under five years old, live in Asia. And in Africa, the number of overweight children under five has increased by nearly 50% since 2000.

Hunger still blights many parts of the world. But the share of people who do not have enough to eat is in decline. Globally one in nine people in the world suffer from chronic undernourishment.

One in ten are obese.

If current trends continue, the share of obese children in the world will surpass the number of undernourished by 2022.

Africa has the fastest-growing middle class in the world. A move from traditional foods to high-calorie fast food and a more sedentary lifestyle is driving the rise in obesity. Fast food outlets like KFC and McDonalds have seen rapid growth on the continent.

Women appear to be most affected. More than half of women in Botswana are overweight. Ethiopia known for its terrible famine, has seen obesity rates in women rise by 600% since 1984.

Health systems in Africa, more focused on treating malnourishment and diseases like malaria and HIV, are ill equipped to deal with obesity-related illnesses like heart disease and diabetes.

Pacific islands have the highest obesity rates in the world, thanks to the spread of western fast food. Diets which a generation ago consisted of fish and coconuts are now dominated by processed meat.

Nauru is top of the list. 61% of the population are obese, making this tiny paradise island the world’s fattest nation.

Cook Islands take second place, with an obesity rate of 56% and Marshall Islands come in third, with 53%.

The Middle East is also in the grip of an obesity crisis. In the Saudi Arabia and Qatar and Kuwait more than a third of the population is obese.

Obesity is already a global epidemic and is rapidly spreading from the rich world to the poor.

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