Why Obesity is the New Malnutrition

You have outcomes like you are too thin, you’re not growing fast enough…or it could mean that you’re overweight or you have high blood sugar, which leads to diabetes.
— Professor Corinna Hawkes, www.bbc.com/news/health-36518770

The obesity epidemic continues to grow in the U.S. and other countries. More than 40% of U.S. women are now considered obese. Obesity has become so problematic that a new global report includes obesity in its definition of malnutrition.

The report called for “redefining malnutrition as including any form of ‘bad’ nutrition,” not just “under-nutrition.” It found that 57 of the 129 countries studied have “serious levels” of under-nutrition and, increasingly, obesity.

On my recent trip to China, I observed this type of "malnutrition", fueled by rapid urbanization, higher incomes, many more mopeds and cars, passive transportation, and the explosion of cheap, western-style, fast-food restaurants such as KFC, Burger King, and McDonalds.

The above video highlights aspects of China's obesity epidemic. 
Source: uploaded by wochit News on May 2, 2016

Why Should We Care?

This is a public health crisis. Obesity is associated with serious and chronic health conditions - elevated risks of breast, colon and rectum, endometrium, esophagus, gallbladder, kidney, pancreas, thyroid, and other cancer types. It is also a major risk factor for other chronic illnesses, including, coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and stroke. Obesity can negatively impact a person's quality of life and their mental health. Plus, it is very expensive to manage. It is estimated that obesity and its health consequences costs the U.S. government $147 billion per year (in 2008 dollars).

 It is estimated that 40% of U.S. adult women are obese. Photo: PRI

It is estimated that 40% of U.S. adult women are obese. Photo: PRI

 Chinese children warm up before swimming during a weight-reduction summer camp. Photo: Imaginechina/Corbis

Chinese children warm up before swimming during a weight-reduction summer camp. Photo: Imaginechina/Corbis

How Did We Get Here?

There are many contributing factors.  As billions have accumulated more wealth around the world, many have adopted a western diet and lifestyle. Rapid urbanization, environmental, and technological changes are also impactful. 

What Can We Do?

Cleaner Diets

To have a lasting and positive impact on future generations, intervention at a young age is critical. Simply adding more fruits and vegetables to a diet that is already high in calories and unhealthy foods is not enough. However, making healthy substitutes can help. We have learned a lot from traditional diets around the world. Before the transition to western diets, people in China fared well on traditional diets, many of which were largely plant-based. According to one of the most comprehensive nutritional studies, The China Study, people living in rural China in the 1970s who ate a mostly plant-based food diet, tended to avoid obesity and chronic diseases.

 Lunch at a traditional Buddhist vegetarian restaurant in Beijing. Photo: Michelle Schurig

Lunch at a traditional Buddhist vegetarian restaurant in Beijing. Photo: Michelle Schurig

 

Creative Urban Planning

As urbanization continues, thoughtful and innovative urban planning, including neighborhood walkability is key. Living in a city has led to poorer diets, less physical activity, and higher rates of overweight and obesity. Why? Urban areas tend to have less open space, more passive transportation, people tend to drive cars and watch t.v. thus facilitating more sedentary behavior, there are more supermarkets and fast-food chains and less farmers stands, more sedentary jobs, and mass media marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages. 

 Shanghai has an estimated 24 million people. Currently, about 54 percent of the world's population lives in cities, but this is expected to increase to 66 percent by 2050. Photo: Michelle Schurig

Shanghai has an estimated 24 million people. Currently, about 54 percent of the world's population lives in cities, but this is expected to increase to 66 percent by 2050. Photo: Michelle Schurig

 Shanghai residents practicing Qigong early in the morning at a local park. Qigong is a traditional Chinese system of physical exercises and meditation. Photo: Michelle Schurig

Shanghai residents practicing Qigong early in the morning at a local park. Qigong is a traditional Chinese system of physical exercises and meditation. Photo: Michelle Schurig

Effective Policy Implementation

Few countries have implemented recommendations by the WHO to promote healthy diets, which include salt reduction, trans- and saturated-fat reduction, and recommendations for marketing to children.  

Policy can be difficult to implement, but some promising choices include taxing unhealthy foods to deter consumption and funneling these revenues to obesity prevention programs. Many people point to the success of taxing tobacco in reducing smoking. Other possibilities include restricting fast food restaurants from sensitive areas, such as schools, and limiting marketing unhealthy food to children.


Taking care of yourself with herbs, diet, and massage

Losing weight and addressing chronic health issues is a difficult process that requires a high level of personal motivation and strength. In addition to having supportive friends and family, it is critical to have the support of qualified health professionals. At the Traditional Method, I will work with you to develop an individualized approach to help you with this transition, tuina and acupressure massage and incorporating specific foods and herbs will help you achieve your health goals. To book an appointment, please visit us here.

 

 

 

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