Global Focus

Obesity – A Ticking Bomb

by Haroon Bayani


[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n recent years several global conflicts have been escalated, resulting in tens of thousands being killed and several million having to flee from their homes. The civil war in Ukraine and the onslaught of Daesh in Syria are only fractions of all the conflicts in our world. While armed violence, war and terrorism have tremendous social burdens on our societies, as well as costing approximately 2.1 trillion dollars annually, the obesity pandemic is not far behind. According to McKinsey Global Institute the economic impact of obesity is roughly 2.0 trillion dollars annually, and it is not getting better. If the trend continues on the current trajectory, by 2030 nearly half of the world’s adults will be overweight or obese. Whilst these figures might show a grim future, one must not forget that obesity, as well as most other diseases of affluence, is preventable in vast majority of the cases. Furthermore, while the causes for obesity may have been evident, recent research has displayed a more complex picture.

Recently a group of international scientists identified 97 genes, of which some were involved in the central nervous system, regulating satiety and some monitoring adipose tissue turnover. This is not much of a surprise from an evolutionary perspective. The thrifty gene hypothesis postulates that during human evolution food scarcity has made people more prone to obesity. While admittedly genetics plays a large role, there are other factors to take into consideration. Besides an increased sedentary lifestyle and dietary changes, sleep insufficiency, environmental endocrine disruptors, decreased irregularity in ambient temperature, and pregnancy at a later age all contribute to the pandemic. Obesity is indeed a complex disease with an array of causes. Nevertheless, what can be done about it? And which health policies should governments adopt? As is always the case, there are not any simple answers. Nonetheless there are systems to restrain the obesity pandemic.

…the economic impact of obesity is roughly 2.0 trillion dollars annually…


First of all, personal responsibilities along with education are crucial elements in tackling the issue. People with obesity must accept the problem at hand and address it by making lifestyle changes. However these measures are not sufficient. Societal norms and environmental changes such as reduced default portion sizes, altering marketing methods, facilitating physical activity in our urban environment is equally important. Lastly one must not omit the fact that all sectors within a country need to be involved. The state, corporate and state media, retailers, companies, employers, health care providers, and educators and the like must all do their part in order to have a broad impact on the matter. Regrettably though I believe certain actors are not taking it seriously. Or rather, why would they? The soda producers, candy makers, and barley farmers all have a vested interest in us not making optimal dietary decisions, and buying their products instead of nutritious and wholesome alternatives. In reality, sadly, they pour billions of dollars each year in advertisement as well as research in order to persuade us that their products are not harmful. Moreover, instead of improving their products and making them healthier, they are trying to put focus on exercise and make us neglect the dangers of unfavourable food. Whilst exercise is undeniably of great importance to our health, so is food. And, dare I say,  food may even have a larger impact on our health, although it does vary from case to case.

The obesity pandemic is a multifaceted problem that needs to be dealt with from all angles. Whereas it is true that the individual has a high degree of responsibility keeping themselves fit we will not get far by blaming them. The state and the private sector have to chip in as well. Expecting the food industry to reform is naïve, which leaves us with the state. Whether the state will interfere I will leave unanswered.

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