Just back from the 21st European Congress on Obesity, I missed out on 100s of media interviews I could have done last week as the media were abuzz with the latest obesity statistics from around the world.
In what will clearly be considered a “landmark” paper by ~150 authors published in The Lancet, we now have the latest summary of global, regional and national data on obesity.
Based on the analyses of almost 1800 surveys, reports, and published studies, the worldwide prevalence of adults with a body-mass index (BMI) of 25 kg/m2 or greater increased between 1980 and 2013 from 29 6o 37% in men and from 30 to 38% in women.
In 2013, 23% of children and adolescents in developed countries were overweight or obese while the same is true for about ~12% of kids in developing countries.
Together, this leave about 2.1 billion of the world populations as currently overweight or obese with numbers growing in virtually every region of the world (albeit with a bit of a slow down in developed countries).
Thus, the authors conclude that,
“Not only is obesity increasing, but no national success stories have been reported in the past 33 years.”
Obviously, there are many reasons why we lack success stories.
No doubt, one could point to governments that have not tried hard enough, or the food and leisure industry that sustains its overwhelming influence on consumer “choices”, or the continuing “westernization” of global lifestyles.
No doubt, many policies have been tried (e.g. fat taxes, menu labelling, school food programs, fitness taxes, BMI report cards as well as more drastic “shame and blame” tactics) but conclusive evidence that any such measures are working to reverse the tide remains elusive.
It may well be that the flattening of obesity (but not severe obesity) rates in developed countries may have more to do with the “natural” history of this epidemic, than with any public health measures.
On the other hand, perhaps the reason so little progress has been made in preventing obesity is that we are not going after the right targets, namely to change the actual life experiences of overworked, sleep deprived, stress-out families living in a culture of “grabbing a bite” and “working lunches” at one end and the millions living with poor education and food insecurity at the other. No amount of fiddling with menu labelling is about to change that.
What is sad in all of this is the simple fact that virtually no government has yet developed a comprehensive plan on how to improve access to obesity treatments for its populations. Rather, overweight and obese people the world over continue to be denied medical care for this disease on the simple basis that it is their own “fault”.
So while the world awaits the wonder of “prevention” to hopefully one day work its magic, millions of people around the world continue struggling on their own with no help in sight.
Let me guess what will happen as a result of these new numbers – not much!