Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : July 18th 2017 Contents The world is in the middle of a major obesity
epidemic, and current trends indicate that it's
only going to get worse.
Today we conclude with the results of a recent
study that found that more than two billion adults
and children globally are overweight or obese and
suffer health problems because of that.
Poor prioritisation of exercise
In China, however, and other parts of East Asia,
an extensive focus on academic achievement can
often mean physical education is left behind. Stu-
dents "are under tremendous pressure for academic
achievement," said Frank Hu, professor of nutrition
and epidemiology at the Harvard TH Chan School of
Public Health. Physical education "classes are often
used for academic studies."
Hu further cites Japan and the countries of Scan-
dinavia, where exercise is a common part of daily life
in terms of commuting and socialising.
Another factor hindering exercise in many places
is the outdoor environment. In the Middle East, that
"It's typically very hot to do outdoor activities,"
Hu said. The same is true in many developing regions
near the equator.
In China, the issue is pollution. "Pollution has be-
come a burden to exercise outdoors," Hu said. This is
particularly problematic for children and the burgeon-
ing childhood obesity epidemic, studies have shown.
But Dr Temo Waqanivalu, team leader of popula-
tion-based prevention of non-communicable diseases
at the WHO, believes that people's eating behaviours
are in more dire need of attention.
"It's now understood that ... food and diet is a big-
ger contributor (to obesity) than a lack of physical
activity," he said. And within this comes a combina-
tion of culture and environment fueling poor dietary
behaviours---and therefore overweight and obesity.
The value of (processed) food
The value placed on food varies significantly among
populations, but one thing most have in common is
gifting and an expression of generosity using food---
and, therefore, value placed on the type of food given.
In the Pacific, where obesity rates are highest, pro-
cessed foods hold high stakes.
Offerings would once be freshly caught fish or fresh
fruit, but they are now canned or processed foods.
"You hear ... people would go and fish, sell their fish
and buy cans of tuna," he said, adding that being sur-
rounded by fish seems to lessen their value.
"Canned foods come with prestige in some way,"
he said. But he believes that education and awareness
efforts by the government in recent years may now
slowly be paying off.
Similar attitudes have been noted in parts of the
Americas---such as Brazil, where soft drinks and pro-
cessed foods also carry weight as signs of wealth and
success---as well as Africa.
In the Middle East, extreme wealth means people
are consuming greater amounts of high-calorie foods,
adding to weight gain.
The value of obesity
Societal perceptions of being overweight or obese
are also key in determining how effectively an obesity
epidemic may surge and in turn be controlled.
Hu uses the example of China and other regions
within Asia as well as Africa, where having a larger,
more robust figure remains a sign of wealth. The idea
of a chubby baby being a sign of wealth and health
in China, for example, "hasn't fully gone away yet."
An obesogenic environment
"The food and physical environment are key factors
that we have created," Waqanivalu said, adding that
while initial blame was placed on individuals, experts
have now agreed that as a society, we have created
environments that aid people in gaining weight.
"The environment created determines the choices
individuals make," he said. Sitting most of the day,
A22 body & soul
guardian.co.tt Tuesday, July 18, 2017
Why are these countries the most obese?
taking fewer steps, having greater access to
fast food and having less time to cook are
just a few examples.
The US is a prime example of this and
has been for 30 years. But today, as devel-
oping regions rapidly urbanise and adopt a
lifestyle like the West has had for decades,
individuals are directed to make the same
decisions: they need to try harder to take
more steps and go in search of healthy food,
ignoring the unhealthy options bombarding
them on the way.
Tackling the causes
Waqanivalu and Hu agree on this point
and the fact that interventions are needed
to counter decisions previously made on
environmental design as well as highlight
the true extent of today's obesity epidemic
and its future consequences to those not
taking an interest.
Hu believes that obesity is truly a societal
and that national and international policies
are needed to create settings in which it is
easy for people to be healthy.
Waqanivalu believes the priority should
be children. "(Children) cannot be blamed
for the environment they are raised in," Hu
said. "Governments must intervene to cre-
ate an environment that aids them to make
the right decision." (CNN.COM)
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