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There Has Not Been A Single Success Story in National Obesity Prevention in The Past 33 Years

sharma-obesity_global_obesity_mapJust 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!

Edmonton, Alberta


  1. While there’s no single success story for a city/state/providence/nation there are plenty of individual success stories. People who have been obese since childhood and who are now in a normal weight range. I am one of those people.

    There is no one set diet, genetics, disease states, cultural, food availability, etc determine what diet is best for people who are in long term maintenance.

    It is my hope that more people are able to overcome poor science and big food to discover what will work for them. I did EVERYTHING backwards when compared to conventional wisdom this time. But it worked for me. “Don’t diet”. (I did a short term commercial program to lose weight because it was that or have a heart attack). How you lose weight has to be sustainable. ( my loss diet is completely different from my maintenance diet- because those are two very different processes!) Eat low saturated fat ( grass-fed beef works well in my maintenance diet).

    Here’s to a lot of individuals sharing how they arrived at solutions to their own problems so other individuals can make their own best health, food, and exercise templates. I do think it will be a grass roots movement.

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  2. If it’s a social stigma in the US, how come the fastest growing rates of obesity are in Saudi Arabia? After counseling patients for 20 years now in disease prevention, I feel like I still can’t sum it up with a simple answer.

    I believe we will discover that the food supply is where the lack of nutrients lie. Nutrition is very misunderstood and until it’s truth can be told, we will continue to grow fatter. Acceptance of fat is more likely than education of nutrition. The scientific world is working hard to develop super nutrients. we can’t match nature. It takes three months for an apple to grow naturally. We need to appreciate that on so many levels.

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