Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : July 17th 2017 Contents A24 body & soul
guardian.co.tt Monday, July 17, 2017
Why are some
countries most obese?
The world is in the middle of a major obesity
epidemic, and current trends indicate that it's
only going to get worse.
A recent study found that more than two billion
adults and children globally are overweight or obese
and suffer health problems because of that---but this
is nothing new.
There are, however, pockets of the global popula-
tion who remain somewhat unaware of this public
health crisis, despite the growth of waistlines all
around them, and this lack of awareness is just one
of the underlying problems, according to Frank Hu,
professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Har-
vard TH Chan School of Public Health.
"Different countries have different issues," Hu said.
"You need to mobilise (their) whole society to tackle
the problem... it's not just a medical problem."
The Pacific Islands, Middle East and Americas lead
the way in terms of regions with the greatest obesity
rates. In 2014, more than 48 per cent of the population
of the Cook Islands was classified as obese. Qatar led
the way in the Middle East with 34 per cent, followed
closely by the United States at 33 per cent, according
to the World Health Organization.
Obesity is defined using a person's body mass index,
the ratio between weight and height, with a BMI of
25 to 29.9 considered overweight and over 30 obese.
When assigning blame, two factors are common:
diet and physical activity, namely poor diets and a lack
of physical activity. But a number of smaller factors
combine to fill these two large umbrellas, and those
need to be understood to truly tackle the problem,
A study published this week in the journal Nature
used data from smartphones to analyse the number of
steps taken on average each day among people across
Using the Azumio Argus app, which tracks physical
activity, researchers monitored the steps of more than
700,000 individuals and ranked countries based on
their level of movement in the form of steps---and
those numbers varied quite significantly.
Hong Kong topped the rankings with 6,880 aver-
age daily steps, followed closely by China with 6,189
steps. At the bottom of the list was Indonesia, with
However, the researchers calculated another statis-
tic that they believe is a stronger predictor of obesity
within a country, a calculation they called "activity
"Activity is not distributed uniformly across a coun-
try," said Scott Delp, professor of bioengineering and
mechanical engineering at Stanford University, who
led the study.
The larger the difference between the top and bot-
tom walkers within a population, the greater their
rates of obesity are likely to be, he explained. "It means
there is a subset of a population that is activity-poor."
When focusing on activity inequality, the list
changed, with Saudi Arabia and Australia ranking
first and second. The US came in fourth, with levels
of activity inequality greatest in more car-oriented
cities like Houston and lowest in more walkable cities
like New York.
The top 5 countries by 'activity inequality' are, in
order, Saudi Arabia, Australia, Canada, Egypt, and
the United States.
The team also found this inequality to dispropor-
tionately affect women, meaning more women would
be in the "activity-poor" subset of the population.
"Targeting the activity-poor (could) have a public
health impact," Delp said.
Perceptions of exercise
While physical inactivity is said to be aiding the
growing rate of obesity worldwide, for example as
urbanisation leads to more sedentary lives, experts
point out that in some populations, exercise simply
isn't a priority.
In addition, in the Middle East overall, it's not
considered the norm for women to take part in out-
door exercise or physical activity for leisure. "Having
women exercise openly is a cultural issue," he said.
Across Asia and the Middle East, Hu thinks there
is a great deal of misunderstanding. "Most people are
not aware of the benefits of being physically active
on their health," he said. (cnn.com)
• Concludes tomorrow
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