Obesity: A Worldwide Issue

Fast food is a worldwide obsession

Fast food is a worldwide obsession.

Toronto C-Health (online publication): While news stories dwell on the alarming trend toward obesity in North American children, the rest of the world appears to be following suit. More than 1.2 billion people in the world are now officially classified as overweight, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Since the publication in the British Medical Journal of new standards for evaluating children's weight, health officials around the world have begun estimating their childhood obesity rates. The Chinese government calculates that 1 in 10 city-dwelling children are now obese. In Japan, obesity in nine-year-old children has tripled. The WHO reports that approximately 20 per cent of Australian children and adolescents are overweight or obese.

London BBC (international broadcaster): Child obesity due to poor nutrition and lack of exercise is a “ticking time bomb” for life expectancy levels, the UK’s food watchdog has warned. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) chairman, Sir John Krebs, said the trend meant young people today would not live as long as their parents… Sir John, in an interview with the Observer newspaper, called for changes to food marketing and an end to celebrity endorsements of unhealthy meals and snacks. "What we are faced with is a situation where, if nothing is done to stop the trend, for the first time in a 100 years life expectancy will actually go down," he told the newspaper. "[That] is an extraordinary reversal of the general gains in health. "We're all looking forward to a longer and healthier old age, and that trend could be reversed." The FSA, whose own research shows advertising influences children's eating habits, wants some food packaging to carry health warnings. It is concerned that popular entertainers and cartoon characters are promoting foods that contain dangerously high levels of fat or salt.

Beijing Xinhua News Agency (government-owned): Experts have called for increased awareness of and concern about the rising numbers of obese children in China, a highlighted balanced diet, and rational nutrition and physical exercises to help control the weight of kids. Official statistics show that 10 percent of the children in China suffer from obesity and the number is increasing by eight percent per year. Some 14.8 percent of boys in primary schools in China are obese, and some 13.2 percent of them are overweight, with the proportions for girls standing at nine percent and 11 percent, respectively. Some 13.2 percent of children in northeast China are obese, the largest proportion in the country, followed by 12.2 percent in east China and 10 percent in central and south China. In big cities like Beijing and Shanghai, there is an average of one obese child in every five. Taking less outdoor exercises and indulging in watching TV and playing games at home are the main reasons behind the child obesity, said experts. Experts warned that obese children are vulnerable to weakened intellectuality, autistic personality, unhealthy sexual development, and high incidence of chronic diseases like arteriosclerosis, hepatocirrhosis, diabetes, and hypertension.

Chennai The Hindu (independent): The world is round and so are a growing number of its inhabitants. In fact, obesity is spreading at an alarming rate, not just in industrialised countries but also in developing countries, where obesity often sits next to malnutrition. …Scientists are documenting the global "fat" problem from China, to Australia, to Egypt, to remote islands of the Pacific, and beyond…In developing countries, it is now estimated that more than 115 million people suffer from obesity-related problems, including Type II Diabetes, heart disease and obesity-related cancers. In the US alone, child obesity has increased by more than 1 per cent per year over the past decade with an estimated 99.2 billion dollars in future health care costs, according to the National Institutes of Health. …Among poorer nations, adoption of industrialized foods and food preferences, together with drastically decreased physical activity levels are the basic ingredients for accelerating obesity, especially among children and adolescents…Within developing countries, shifts to urbanization, non-manual labour, high calorie foods, and higher levels of sedentary living are all contributing to this growing problem, often in conjunction with undernourished segments of the population. We assume in developing countries that the problem is one of under-nutrition rather than over-nutrition, but many countries now have both…In South Africa, overall environmental differences were more important in predicting child weight than family income, so that even children of comparatively poorer parents in Cape Town were fatter than the children of well-off parents in the poorer rural areas.

Melbourne The Age (centrist): Tips on which foods children should eat and how much exercise they need will be sent to parents as part of a $100 million push to tackle childhood obesity. And 150,000 children - about 10 per cent of those with a weight problem - will get after-school exercise sessions up to three times a week…With an estimated 1.5 million under-18’s overweight or obese, Prime Minister John Howard recently announced the four-pronged strategy at a child obesity meeting in Launceston. Mr. Howard said Australia could overcome the "huge problem" of childhood obesity by encouraging more exercise and better eating at all ages. "In the end, it's a challenge to parents because it's parents who determine and set the eating habits of their children and... we'll be encouraging parents to set the example to their children," he said. "It's a paradox in this country. We love sport and pride ourselves on our sporting prowess and yet more and more of us are watching sport and not exercising ourselves." …Australian Medical Association president Bill Glasson said the nation would pay "physically and financially" if it did not tackle the issue of obesity urgently. Educating parents on what their children should be eating and how much exercise they should have was vital, he said. "Mum and dad have to set an example. If they eat badly and watch hours and hours of television instead of doing exercise, kids follow their parents," he said. "Fat kids often have fat parents. We have to break that cycle." Australian Divisions of General Practice president Rob Walters said the problem could cost Australia dearly if left unchecked. "If we don't start teaching our children wise eating habits, we are going to end up with massive health problems in adulthood and with blowout numbers of people with diabetes and heart disease," he said.

London Middle East Online (English-language): Obesity ratio in Saudia Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, the Sultanate of Oman and the Republic of Yemen (GCC countries) has reached 60 per cent and is more common among women, a Gulf study revealed. Director of the environmental and biological research program at Bahrain Center for Studies and Research Dr. Abdul Rahman Mosaiqer pointed out that his study, along with other studies, proved that obesity is more common in women than men in GCC countries compared to some European countries. He also stated that the obesity percentage among married women ranges from 50 to 70 per cent and among married men from 30 to 50 per cent, adding that the percentage ranges from 5 to 10 per cent among pre-school kids and increases to range from 10 to 15 per cent among primary school children. As for the reasons of obesity in GCC countries, Mosaiqer noted that these reasons lie in the lack of sport and physical activities, over quantities of fatty food as well as the repetition of pregnancy among women without having enough intervals between giving birth and pregnancy.

Jerusalem Jerusalem Post (conservative): Former World Health Organization secretary-general Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland said at an international conference a few weeks ago that until recently, blood pressure, cholesterol, tobacco, alcohol and obesity - and the diseases linked to them - were thought to be concerns only for industrialized countries. But she noted that they are becoming more prevalent in developing nations. In many Third World countries, obesity rates have risen dramatically - threefold or more in some parts of Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Pacific Islands, Australia and China since 1980…An interdisciplinary study carried out over the past decade at Kosra, a tiny Micronesian island where life expectancy is, at 55, among the lowest in the world, helps explain what goes wrong. The residents are not poor, and don't lack modern medical care. But almost all of them are obese and most suffer from Type II diabetes and heart disease. The 3,000 people of Kosra are descended from Polynesian Asiatics who arrived during the First Century CE. In 1824, when the first white men came from America and Europe to hunt whales, they introduced diseases to which the locals had never been exposed. Many died from those, as well as from typhoons and other natural disasters that left a meager diet and a population of only 300. The survivors - genetic mixtures of the original Polynesians and the white whalers - subsisted on fruit and fish until 1945. But an economic boom followed the end of World War II, and a US military base introduced the American way of life. The Kosra people began to drink beer and eat steaks instead of fruit and fish. Residents who had been "chosen" by evolution to survive famine because their bodies were able to make the best use of the meager food available were doomed in a time of plenty in an industrialized society. And this is what has helped make 21st century man obese.

Glascow The Scotsman (independent, moderate): The largest international study carried out into teenage behaviour has found that children in Scotland have among the highest consumption of sugary soft drinks in the world. The survey of 162,000 youngsters from 35 countries revealed that Israel was the only country whose children consume more sugary drinks. The new research, published by the World Health Organisation (WHO), will fuel already grave concerns about Scotland’s growing obesity problem. Scotland’s chief medical officer, Dr. Mac Armstrong, has described the report as "an international alarm bell." Public-health experts have pointed to the consumption of sugary drinks as a key factor in the rise of obesity, and last year Dr. Armstrong called for a ban on the sale of carbonated sugared drinks in schools. A study in the British Medical Journal also found that rates of obesity were much lower among children actively discouraged from such beverages. According to the WHO study, called Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children, more than half of Scottish 15-year-old boys - 53.9 per cent - consume a sugary soft drink each day, compared with an average of 34.5 per cent for youngsters from other countries. The relative figures for 15-year-old girls were 45.2 per cent and 25.8 per cent. Scottish 11 and 13-year-olds also ranked second in consumption of sugary drinks after Israel. And nearly half of all children aged 13 in Scotland eat sweets on a daily basis. Dr. Candace Currie, the international co-ordinator for the WHO study, said that such high consumption could be related to availability. "Consumption is very low in Scandinavian countries, and I think they have tougher laws about the promotion of snacks," she said. Other findings in the WHO report, which included European countries, America, Russia and Israel, showed that one in three young Scots watched television for at least four hours every day. The country ranked seventh in the league table for 15-year-olds who spent the most time in front of the television. In Scotland, nearly two-thirds of boys of 15 in the study failed to meet the guidelines for physical activity. This rose to 77.2 per cent for girls. However, all countries achieved a similar average. Meanwhile, fruit consumption in Scotland, still too low, was also similar to the international average. In all countries, girls reported eating more fruit, although for both genders this decreased with age. Dr. Armstrong said: "It is clear that if we are going to make any impact on Scotland’s appalling health record, we have to start with our young people.

Sydney The Sydney Morning Herald (centrist): Slim meals, fat camps, diet pills and even surgery – there’s nothing American parents won’t try to downsize their kids. There was a time when people would not have used the words “diet” and “child” in the same sentence. Now the two go together, in advertisements. “Nobody really likes to think of putting children on diets,” said Arthur Gunning, whose company, Zonekids, offers chubby New York children three home-delivered “healthy meals a day.” “But parents were coming to us, saying: ‘Can you help? Our kids are overweight. We don’t know what to do.’ It’s easy to say take them out and make them exercise,” said Gunning. “But parents these days are working all the time. Kids go home to empty houses, they play video games, watch TV. They just don’t move enough.” The result is that one in three kids in the US is now fat, one in five is obese and some have serious health problems.