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3 Jan, 2014 14:07

Obesity rates tripled in developing countries – survey

Obesity rates tripled in developing countries – survey

The number of obese people in the developing world has reached over 900 million, superseding rates in the developed world, a study has revealed. As a result of the rise in obesity, the report predicts a “huge increase” in heart attacks and diabetes.

The study carried out by the UK-based think-tank Overseas Development Institute (ODI) reveals the rate of obesity in developing countries is almost double that in developed countries.

In 2008, over 900 million people in poorer countries were classified as being overweight, in comparison with 550 million in higher income countries. This figure has more than tripled since 1980 in underdeveloped countries, while in wealthier nations the rate has grown by 1.7 times, the report says.

“The growing rates of overweight and obesity in developing countries are alarming,"
said the report's author, ODI Research Fellow Steve Wiggins. "On current trends, globally, we will see a huge increase in the number of people suffering certain types of cancer, diabetes, strokes and heart attacks, putting an enormous burden on public healthcare systems.”

The study calculates that over one-third of the world’s adult population – around 1.45 billion people – are obese or overweight and lays the blame at the feet of governments for not taking the necessary measures to combat the issue.

The significant rise is obesity figures in the developing world can be attributed to the recent shift in diets, the study claims. Consumers have moved from a diet based on cereals and tubers to one based on larger quantities of fats and sugar, as well as fruit and vegetables. This coupled with larger portions and a more sedentary lifestyle has led to progressively fatter populations.

Soft drink cups sized (L-R) at 7 ounces, 12 ounces, 16 ounces, 32 ounces and 64 ounces (Reuters/Andrew Burton)

“The evidence is well-established: obesity, together with excessive consumption of fat and salt, is linked to the rising global incidence of non-communicable diseases including some cancers, diabetes, heart disease and strokes,” the report says.

If world governments do not move to change eating habits, the ODI predicts a “huge increase” in heart disease, strokes and diabetes. Attempts up until now by politicians have been decidedly tentative as if they were “afraid to meddle with diets and thereby alienate consumers as well as farming and food industry interests.”

The study flags some countries as exemplary in the push to change eating habits. Denmark banned trans-fatty acids (TFA) in 2004 which, as a result, has reduced the Danish population’s prevalence for heart disease. In addition, investment in ad campaigns in South Korea and the large-scale training of women to prepare meals high in vegetable content and low in fat has improved nutrition in the country.

A long-term push to reduce the amount of calories consumed by a population has never been undertaken and therefore it is impossible to know what might be achieved.

“This has never been attempted, with the rare exception of the wartime rationing in Britain, which stands out as an unusual natural experiment that led to better health,”
writes the study, adding that the British were quick to go back to old habits when food supplies were normalized.