The Obesity Pandemic
It’s a worldwide phenomenon, with poorly understood causes. But there’s no point in blaming the victims.
I’ve written up to now concerning the American obesity epidemic. Obesity rates have continued to climb in the USA, though the speed of increase has leveled out. But obesity can be on the rise globally. The obesity rate has increased in every single place. In nine countries, not less than one out of 5 people is now obese: South Africa (23.3%), USA (32%), Brazil (21.4%), Mexico (25%), Egypt (30%), Iran (20.1%), Iraq (21%), Russia (21.5%), and Turkey (26%).
What’s causing this global increase? Scientists have plenty of ideas but nothing like a definitive answer. Theories abound: too many carbohydrates and ultra-processed foods; chemical residues in foods; food insecurity; genetic/environmental interactions; changes in gut bacteria. Regardless of the causes could also be, they’ve more impact on some groups than others – West Virginians versus Californians, blacks and Latinos versus Asian Americans, highschool dropouts versus college graduates. Once obesity occurs treatment is difficult. There are very promising recent drugs but they cost $1000 or more a month.
The most important concern about obesity is its health impact. There are also variations on that dimension. Obesity is a significant risk factor for type 2 diabetes and other ills, but some obese persons are perfectly healthy.
It’s hard to prove causation, but we all know some aspects which are strongly related to obesity rates, resembling the prevalence of junk foods and sugared drinks, lack of opportunities for walking and exercise; and increased exposure to TV and other sedentary activities. Thus, there may be good reason to think that practices that are good for the environment, resembling healthier diets and walkable communities, would also help reduce obesity.
There’s a bigger point. For a lot of, the primary impulse is responsible obesity on moral failings and private weakness. One thing we find out about obesity is that “naming and shaming” doesn’t work. Usually, we’re too prone responsible individuals relatively than the circumstances wherein they find themselves. I think that can be true within the environmental context. It could be more practical to discover the aspects that push them in that direction, and address those relatively than pointing a finger at people whose behavior we would like to vary.