Until recently when US First Lady Michelle Obama brought childhood obesity to global awareness, obesity is one of the most neglected yet most visible public health issues. It is most visible because you don’t need to be a doctor in order to know if someone close to you is obese.
Perhaps the neglect is because of the fact that obesity is a complex condition with social and psychological dimensions. People don’t get offended when you talk about their diseases such as diabetes or hypertension. But tell them that they are fat, chances are they will stop talking to you. That, and many other factors made obesity a global epidemic – one that is starting the alarm the world now because of its serious complications.
In 1995, there were an estimated 200 million obese adults worldwide but as of 2000, the number has increased to over 300 million. Contrary to what people think, the obesity epidemic is not just in industrialized societies; in developing countries, over 115 million people suffer from obesity-related problems. Once considered a problem only in developed nations, obesity is now declared by World Health Organization (WHO) as a global problem since a 2005 report estimates that overweight and obesity are dramatically on the rise in low and middle-income countries. The WHO cited factors such as a global shift in diet towards increased calorie, fat, salt, and sugar intake; a trend towards decreased physical activity due to the sedentary nature of modern work and transportation; and increasing urbanization as the reasons why obesity is increasing worldwide.
WHO estimates that more than “75% of women older than age 30 now are overweight in countries as diverse as Barbados, Egypt, Malta, Mexico, South Africa, Turkey, and the United States.” For men, 75% are now overweight in countries such as Argentina, Germany, Greece, Kuwait, New Zealand, Samoa, and the United Kingdom. The Western Pacific islands of Nauru and Tonga have the highest global prevalence of overweight, with nine out of 10 adults being overweight that is largely because of a culture that promotes it.
Today, more than 1 billion adults are considered overweight, at least 300 million of them clinically obese. WHO reports that “obesity rates that have risen three-fold or more since 1980 in some areas of North America, the United Kingdom, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, the Pacific Islands, Australasia and China. Economic growth, modernization, urbanization and globalization of food markets are just some of the forces thought to underlie the epidemic.