Yesterday, Oct. 11, was World Obesity Day, a day meant to spread awareness to one of the most dangerous diseases facing society today, even though it could be solved by good decisions. Unlike infectious diseases that require expensive pharmaceutical products to treat, most forms of obesity, which can lead to type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke, can often be treated through better eating and exercise habits.
America has long been viewed as the champion of bad habits. Stereotypically on the higher end of the scale, other countries around the world look down on America’s diet and lifestyle choices. This, however, appears to be changing.
According to recent data compiled in 2016, the world is becoming more like America. Comparing current statistics to levels taken in 2000, the number of obese children has drastically risen in East Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean. As described in an article by the BBC, “China and India have seen rates ‘balloon[ed]’” and one in every two children in Polynesia and Micronesia is either overweight or obese.
While the number of underweight children, a measure of famine levels worldwide, has decreased to 192 million, the number of overweight and obese children has risen to 213 million and 124 million, respectively. According to the World Obesity Federation, if current trends are not reversed, expenditure on health issues caused by obesity could exceed $1.2 trillion annually by 2025.
This change in world physiology can mostly be contributed to the increase in in sugar, carbohydrates and processed foods. As populations increase, resources for fresh ingredients become more strained. When added to the inexpensiveness of processed food compared to fresh, it is not surprising densely populated and physically isolated regions have seen large increases in childhood obesity.
This change is also about taste. If given the option between a fresh salad and McDonald’s, a naïve child will pick the latter. If the parent is not economically purchase the (often more expensive) salad, they will not put up much of a fight against their child’s wish. Soda is tastier, and often more expensive than bottled water. In areas where the tap is not clean, this argument applies here.
These life choices not only negatively impact a child in the short term, but bad habits instilled young follow the individual into adulthood and if left unchanged, can lead to expensive and potentially deadly illnesses.
To combat this, 20 countries around the world have put a sugary drink tax in place. One of these countries, the United Kingdom, has seen an obesity plateau over the last few years, yet levels remain that one in 10 children living in the United Kingdom is obese.
Dr. Fiona Bull and the World Health Organization called for a world-wide crack down on foods that are calorically-dense and nutrition-poor. Efforts are ongoing to encourage physical activity.
Yet regulation can only do so much for the health of nations. Parents must be motivated to make healthy choices for their children. As educated as America is about the negatives of obesity, other countries are even worse. Because the side effects attributed to obesity are not immediate, many choose to eat whatever unhealthy, processed food which can be procured quickly not realizing, or not caring, that choices today impact life tomorrow.
Educational programs should be set up to educate the new generations of young patients about healthy living. Programs and policies must be instilled to make it advantageous to go into agriculture in order to grow fresh produce. Urbanization, both the loss of farm workers due to migration or the destruction of land in favor of cities, has drastically decreased food supplies, which makes processed foods even more appealing to the wallet.
Worldwide obesity is a troubling issue but it’s manageable. Through smart programs, policies and decisions we can decrease the number of overweight children. In honor of National Obesity Day, we must all work to end childhood obesity.
David Csordas is a staff columnist for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.