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According to the World Obesity Federation’s 2023 atlas, 51 per cent of the global population will be overweight by 2035, and two billion among them will be obese. Surprisingly, the most affected countries would be from the low income bracket, and most of them would adolescents. It is estimated that 208 million boys and 175 million girls would be affected, and the health costs of the problem would be $4 trillion annually by 2035, 3 per cent of the global GDP.
Louise Baur, president of the federation, said this is a warning for governments and there is need for policy intervention to face the problem. She said, “Governments and policymakers around the world need to do all they can to avoid passing health, social and economic costs on to the younger generation.” She also observed: “It is particularly worrying to see obesity rates rising fastest among children and adolescents.”
Overweight and obesity are calculated based on body mass index (BMI) where a person’s weight in kilogrammes is divided by height in metres squared. A BMI over 25 is considered overweight and BMI over 30 is categorised as obese. In 2020, 2.6 billion people, or 38 per cent of the population, fell into the overweight and obese categories. It is estimated that more countries from Asia and Africa will be affected by the problem in the coming years.
This is not a scare scenario which can be dismissed by politicians, governments and society as the imagination of experts. We have seen how politicians, governments and a large number of people had ignored warnings about climate change, and then they woke to the harsh reality when extreme weather events increased all over the world and threw everyone into a tizzy. As there are no quick-fixes to solve the climate change crisis, it has to be recognised that the pandemic of overweight and obesity would prove intractable once they cross the critical limits.
As there is need to change the way we live and earn our livelihoods to combat climate change, it will be necessary to change our increasingly sedentary lifestyle and consumption of junk food as a way to fight overweight and obesity. Physical activity cannot be confined to sports activities, or hobbies like trekking if one is to fight the problem of obesity. It will be necessary to change the whole way of life.
And this cannot be done in a haphazard and fanciful fashion. There would be need for a thorough overhaul of how our children spend time in school and at home, what food they eat. This may also require a reconsideration of GM food crops because so far the primary concern has been to increase foodgrain production, and no one has studied the health implications of eating GM food. Without doubt, the food we consume is one of the key factors which contributes to overweight and obesity. And it is also an acknowledged fact that medication in the form of steroids is a neglected aspect of the causes of overweight and obesity.
Scientific researchers including biologists, botanists, doctors, nutritionists, psychologists and sociologists have to join hands in understanding what are the many factors that cause overweight and obesity in order to contain it. Piecemeal solutions coming from either the medicinal field or agriculture experts may not be enough to understand the issue and contain it. And the problem requires closer study as well and this will take time. It is time then to initiate long-term studies to assess causes of the malady. And as in the case of climate studies, there is need for emphasis on localised more than globalised studies. There are no universal solutions.
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