Obesity: Getting to the Heart of the Matter

02-12-2016 | Article
  • Obese humans now outnumber underweight on the planet 
  • Childhood obesity growing problem globally
  • No silver bullet: Multi-factor approach needed 
  • Healthy Living movement helping shift and shape trends

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Obesity is defined as excess body fat as measured by a person’s body mass index (BMI). A BMI of 25 or above is overweight and 30 or above is obese. Recent figures show a staggering three out of four Americans (97 million) as overweight or obese. Per the most recent WHO statistics there are nearly 2 billion overweight adults worldwide, 600 million of which are obese.
 
It doesn’t take a scientific metric or demographic statistic to know when a person or an entire society suffers from a weight problem. A stroll down the street or a peek in a restaurant will give one plenty of evidence on why we are getting fatter—more wealth brings more excess.
 
While it is no surprise that obesity has been a growing problem in industrialized nations, it may be alarming to find that its prevalence is worrisomely increasing around the globe. Worldwide rates have doubled since 1980.
 
Changing demographics driven by urbanization and a world in convenience-overdrive will continue to push rates higher.
 
Carrying lots of excess weight leads to decreased quality of life and productivity but its most pernicious impact is via the myriad of diseases it causes. Obesity is directly linked with Type 2 diabetes, heart problems, strokes, high blood pressure, cancer and a host of other health conditions. Due to its direct link with these so-called “lifestyle diseases,” obesity’s weight on healthcare budgets is huge. According to a 2014 McKinsey study, the global economic impact of obesity is roughly USD 2 trillion, or 2.8 percent of global GDP.
 
So serious is the weight on a country’s cost and growth outlook that governments are intervening directly with taxes on salt and sugar products. Already in 2014, Mexico introduced a tax on soda (notorious for its sugar content) in order to control surging obesity and Type 2 diabetes. The UK is due to exact similar measures in 2018.
 
In recent weeks, even the US, home to Pepsi and Coca-cola, has seen soda-tax legislative victories spanning both East and West Coasts. See New York Times opinion editorial here.
  
The Food and Beverage industries are reacting with mixed strategies of fight and flight. Some big brands with large capital reserves are lobbying against the tide, criticizing government interference on individual choice. Others are responding with increased R&D for low-cal, low sugar, low-salt alternatives. Little brands can also get in on the action as this creates a plethora of opportunities for organic and natural food producers to replenish empty consumer glasses and plates.
 
The market is wide-open with “healthy” demand for natural food products. There to support consumption are aging baby boomers who want to age in good health and good grace. Younger populations too are ready consumers for healthy products, as for them being fit means having fun. 

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