A new report shows that almost one
billion people living in developing countries can now be classified as
overweight or obese.
The developing world figures are
overtaking rates seen in richer countries for the first time, the Future Diets report by the UK's Overseas Development Institute said. The research looked at global data from 1980 to 2008.
"The statistics are quite
sensational, it is a tripling of the number of people who are considered
overweight and obese in the developing world since 1980," said Steve Wiggins, the report's author. "That takes the number
to more than 900 million and that is more than the number of overweight and
obese people that we have in the high income countries, which is probably
around 570 million, something like that. It is a very rapidly emerging problem
and it is now of a very large size."
Two countries with particularly high
obesity rates are China and Mexico, where the number of overweight people has almost doubled since 1980.
In South Africa, obesity has risen by
a third and the country now has a higher rate than the United Kingdom. North Africa, the Middle East and
Latin America all have similar overweight and obesity rates to Europe.
"It is associated with incomes
and urbanization and a more sedentary lifestyle," Wiggins said, "so it is those emerging
countries which have done the best at raising their incomes. It's the middle
income countries, it is the Chinas, it is the Mexicos, which are the countries
which are seeing the highest rates of overweight and obesity at the
moment," he said.
Alan Dangour, who researches food and nutritional global health
at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and who was not involved in
the report, told the BBC that as developing countries become more urbanized,
people's diets are changing. Sometimes, families living in the same household
can have obese and malnourished members at the same time.
"We need to act urgently to
deal with the scandal of millions of cases of extreme hunger and
under-nutrition in children, but we also need to think what happens if we
provide lots of extra calories, containing few vitamins, and encourage excess
consumption," he said.
Processed food, the abundance of
sugary drinks and sedentary lifestyles are largely to blame for people piling
on the pounds, along with a preference for eating fast food rather than
cooking traditional meals at home.
The "Future Diets" report reveals
that sugar and sweetener consumption has risen by over a fifth per person
globally between 1961 and 2009. The world's top sugar consumers include the
U.S., Belgium, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Mexico.
"Taking in a lot more calories
in energy dense foods compared to traditional staples, where you are eating say
maize and beans, where you get a full stomach fairly early, as opposed to
eating cooked pastries with lots of lovely fat and sugar in it and so on,"
The report warns that governments
are not doing enough to tackle the growing crisis, partly due to politicians'
reluctance to interfere at the dinner table, the powerful farming and food
lobbies and a large gap in public awareness as to what constitutes a healthy
Countries singled out for praise in
tackling obesity are Denmark and South Korea. In Denmark laws against
trans-fatty acids have made Danish McDonalds among the healthiest in the world.
Twenty years ago in South Korea the government launched a large-scale public
education campaign which has turned around obesity rates.
"A few decades ago the
government of Korea said we must encourage our traditional foods, which are low
in fats and oils, high in vegetables, high in seafood and so on. And there was
a lot of public education, a lot of training and a sense that Korean food is
good for you," Wiggins said.
The report predicts that if current
rates continue there will be a huge increase in people suffering certain types
of cancer, diabetes, strokes and heart attacks, which will put an enormous
stress on hospitals.
CBS News, Reuters