Hunger and Obesity – the search for enough … but not too much

Friday, June 6, 2014

foodsThe search for a ‘Goldilocks’ diet—not too much, not too little, but just right—with sufficient (but not excessive) nutrition for all people has become a global challenge.

According to a recent report in the highly respected medical journal The Lancet, globally 2.1 billion people are overweight or obese, far outstripping those who don’t have enough food (800 million).

Once thought to be a problem only in rich countries, and even there to be manageable, obesity today is reaching epidemic proportions in both developed and developing countries.

As pointed out by the BBC, over half of the seriously overweight (obese) people live in just ten countries globally. The top six countries are USA, China, India, Russia, Brazil and Mexico, reflecting in part their large populations.

In Canada 64% of men and 48% of women are reported to be overweight or obese. This is is alarming, but is still lower than the American figures of 71% and 62%, respectively. The study estimates that the Pacific island of Samoa has an obesity prevalence of 83% for men and 85% for women. Even in Kenya it is 30% and 34% respectively.

According to The Lancet article, the causes of this obesity epidemic are likely to be both dietary and activity related.

Inactivity plays a key role for both children and adults, the report says. Changing work environments, with long periods spent sitting in front of screens of various types, have played a role in developed countries, and are beginning to affect other countries as well.

Busy lifestyles are also eroding ‘classical’ eating habits, leading to more eating between meals. Meal time food is being replaced by more ‘ready to eat’ foods, often with high levels of sugar and fats.

The problem of overweight and obesity underlines the growing realization of the importance of nutrition.

In addition to overweight and obesity, nutritional concerns about deficiencies of key micronutrients are also growing. In addition to the 800 million who lack sufficient energy in their diets, it is estimated that over two billion people lack sufficient vitamin A, iron and iodine in their diets.

The Foodgrains Bank includes vitamin A fortification in food aid cooking oil and iodine in any salt provided. More recently, greater attention is being paid to providing the key micronutrients to pregnant women and very young children. But this is just a small effort to address the issue; globally, we all need to do more work to find that right “Goldilocks” diet.

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