Obesity In The Developing World
January 4, 2014

Obesity Rates Nearly Quadruple In Developing Countries

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

The number of overweight or obese people living in developing countries nearly quadrupled between 1980 and 2008, according to a new report from UK-based humanitarian think-tank The Overseas Development Institute (ODI).

During that 28-year period, the amount of overweight or obese men and women living in the developing world increased from 250 million to 904 million, the ODI’s Future Diets report said. Over that same amount of time, obesity rates in high-income nations increased 1.7 times.

The survey also found that one-third of all adults worldwide (1.46 billion) are overweight or obese. However, more of those people lived in developing countries (904 million) than in richer ones (557 million), said Time.com’s Denver Nicks.

“The developing world’s dramatic weight gain since 1980 is due primarily to two factors, says the report: richer diets and more sedentary lifestyles,” Nicks added. “More people in poorer countries are earning enough to move from diets built on cereals and tubers to diets rich in meat, fat and sugar, and now have increasingly stationary lives.”

Furthermore, according to BBC News, the Future Diets report also predicts a “huge increase” in heart attack, stroke and diabetes rates. The majority of the increase was reported in countries that were developing, but where incomes were rising, such as Mexico and Egypt.

“The regions of North Africa, the Middle East and Latin America saw large increases in overweight and obesity rates to a level on a par with Europe, around 58 percent,” the British news agency said. “While North America still has the highest percentage of overweight adults at 70 percent, regions such as Australasia and southern Latin America are now not far behind with 63 percent.”

The largest growth in overweight people occurred in southeastern Asia, where the portion of the population with a body mass index (BMI) of 25 or higher tripled from seven percent in 1980 to 22 percent in 2008. The report also found that overweight/obesity rates nearly doubled in China and Mexico and was one-third higher in South Africa.

Steve Wiggins, one of the report’s authors and a research fellow with ODI, said there were multiple reasons for the phenomenon. "People with higher incomes have the ability to choose the kind of foods they want. Changes in lifestyle, the increasing availability of processed foods, advertising, media influences... have all led to dietary changes."

Wiggins advises governments to be more aggressive with public health policy, instituting initiatives similar to those used to curb smoking and tobacco use: “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.”

As an example, he pointed to South Korea, where public campaigns and meal preparation training programs are being used to help preserve the country's traditional diet, the BBC said. The report found that South Koreans consumed 300 percent more fruit and 10 percent more vegetables in 2009 than they did in 1980, thanks to those government-sponsored campaigns.