While it will hardly come as a surprise that in the age of pervasive, accessible and cheap pink slime fast food, more people than ever are obese, the actual numbers may be a shock to most. Conveniently, quantifying the world's obesity epidemic is precisely what the London-based Overseas Development Institute has done with a just released report titled Future Diets (pdf link). Its findings are stunning: more than a third of all adults in the world - 1.46 billion to be exact - are obese or overweight.
The main culprit: the development world, where the number of obese has nearly quadrupled from 250 million to 904 million between 1980 and 2008. What this means for the world's soaring healthcare costs needs little explanation: "On current trends, globally, we will see a huge increase in the number of people suffering certain types of cancer, diabetes, strokes and heart attacks, putting an enormous burden on public healthcare systems." according to the co-author of the Future Diets report. That's ok, the already insolvent world, drowning in record debt, obviously can afford to spend even more on a record population of fatties.
AFP summarizes the report's main findings:
The study said the rise in obesity was down to diets changing in developing countries where incomes were rising, with people shifting away from cereals and tubers to eating more meat, fats and sugar. The overconsumption of food, coupled with increasingly sedentary lives, was also to blame. The report said there seemed to be little will among the public and leaders to take action on influencing diet in the future.
"Governments have focused on public awareness campaigns, but evidence shows this is not enough," said Wiggins.
"The lack of action stands in stark contrast to the concerted public actions taken to limit smoking in developed countries.
"Politicians need to be less shy about trying to influence what food ends up on our plates. The challenge is to make healthy diets viable whilst reducing the appeal of foods which carry a less certain nutritional value."
Below are the report's key findings straight from the horse's mouth:
- Over one third of all adults across the world – 1.46 billion people – are obese or overweight. Between 1980 and 2008, the numbers of people affected in the developing world more than tripled, from 250 million to 904 million. In high-income countries the numbers increased by 1.7 times over the same period.
- Diets are changing wherever incomes are rising in the developing world, with a marked shift from cereals and tubers to meat, fats and sugar, as well as fruit and vegetables.
- While the forces of globalisation have led to a creeping homogenisation in diets, their continued variation suggests that there is still scope for policies that can influence the food choices that people make.
- Future diets that are rich in animal products, especially meat, will push up prices for meat, but surprisingly, not for grains. This suggests that future diets may matter more for public health than for agriculture.
- There seems to be little will among public and leaders to take the determined action that is needed to influence future diets, but that may change in the face of the serious health implications. Combinations of moderate measures in education, prices and regulation may achieve far more than drastic action of any one type.
Some other pretty charts from the report:
So, in other words, as long as the overweight world can eat its cake, and have others pay for the diabetes medication fees, all is well. However, once this too unsustainable ponzi scheme ends, run. Or at least jog casually away, because one doesn't have to outrun everyone... just the fattest. And there are a lot of those around.