The world is getting fatter, sicker
Obesity has become a worldwide concern because people in each and every nation are falling prey to it. WHO defines obesity as a body mass index (BMI) of at least 30 kg/m2 and overweight as a BMI of at least 25 kg/m2 (BMI is calculated by weight in kg divided by the square of a person's height in metre). Around one billion adults in the world are overweight and around 300 million of them are obese.
Diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, gallbladder ailments, cancer, psycho-social problems, breathlessness, sleep disorders, asthma, arthritis, weak bones and reproductive hormone abnormalities are just some of the NCDs which are more likely to affect obese and overweight people. WHO's surveillance of risk factors (SuRF) report, which came out in 2003, says diet, lack of physical activity and obesity are common risk factors for NCDs. The World Health Report 2003 says that in all continents except Africa more people die of NCDs than communicable diseases. WHO estimates that by 2020, 73 per cent of all deaths will be caused by NCDs.
The governments of several developing countries like India claim that obesity and NCDs aren't their problems. But the fact is NCDs are increasing even in developing countries (see table: No place safe). Of the 16.6 million people who died of cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) all around the world in 2001, around 80 per cent were from low- and middle-income countries. It's feared that by 2010, CVDs would be the leading cause of death in developing counties. India, China, Indonesia, Pakistan and Brazil are among the top 10 countries affected by diabetes. At least 19.4 million Indians had diabetes in 1995 and the number rose to 31.5 million in 2000.
This massive obesity epidemic is eating up the money countries spend on healthcare, and it's also wasting their human resources. Industrialised countries could be spending 2-7 per cent of their healthcare on obesity. United Kingdom in 1998 spent 9.5 million (US $17 million) on obesity treatment and 470 million (US $ 840 million) on treating diseases caused by it, says a study done by Stephen Morris, a researcher at the economics department of London's City University. Lost earnings due to deaths attributed to obesity amounted to 830 million (US $ 1.5 billion) and lost earnings due to sickness were 1.3 billion (US $ 2.3 billion).
As many as 40,000 years of working life were lost due to the 31,000 deaths attributed in 1998 to obesity, which also cost the nation 18 million days of sickness. UK's health service directly lost half-a-billion pounds (US $ 894 million) due to the disease and 2.5 billion (US $ 4.5 billion) indirectly. If the trend persists, obesity could cost the UK 3.5 billion (US $ 6.2 billion) by 2010.
The US spends an average 6.8 per cent (US $70 billion) of its total health expenditure on obesity. USW businesses spend US $12.7 billion on expenditure attributed to obesity which includes insurance and paid sick leave.
For all these diseases and the money spent on treating them, researches conducted all over the world blame sugar- and fat-rich food. Jim Mann, professor of human nutrition and medicine at University of Otago in New Zealand, has reviewed several studies which found that:
• When people were asked to cut down intake of sugars and replace it with starchy foods such as potatoes for five months, they lost weight
• When overweight people were asked to reduce fat consumption, they lost weight
• People eating high-fat or high-sugar diets gained weight. The weight gain in people having high sucrose diet was double that gained by people on high fat diet
• Children drinking soft drinks rich in sugars gained weight with each serving of a drink
• Food and drinks rich in sugar have higher energy and lead to weight gain as compared to low energy, artificially sweetened food
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