The number of overweight and obese adults in the developing world has almost quadrupled to around one billion since 1980. The Overseas Development Institute said one in three people worldwide was now overweight and urged governments to do more to influence diets. In the UK, 64% of adults are classed as being overweight or obese. In US, 70% over overweight or obese.
To make things go in the other direction and have more people get thinner, societies need to restructure so that the easy or automatic behavior pattern is one with better diets and more exercise. This the case with poverty and poor health in the developing world where people get unclean water. We cannot expect them to know to buy the Chlorine and alway remember to buy the Chlorine and then put it into their water. The healthy option needs to be the default action.
Three key issues emerge from this study, even given imperfect evidence, with implications for public policy and especially for future agricultures and food costs.
First, diets and their influences are more varied than some may imagine. Yes, the combined forces of economic growth, rising incomes, urbanisation and globalisation are powerful, but we should not underestimate the extent of local variation. Bear in mind that it has not been possible in this review – for lack of readily available data and time – to look at diets at a level more detailed than national average consumption. It is known that even within national templates there are wide variations by income groups, by regions within countries, and by other social variables such as vegetarianism and culinary traditions. So, getting closer to the grain of reality would reinforce this message of variety and the limits to which growth and globalisation may lead to homogenous diets.
The implications are two-fold: that globalisation will not, in the medium term, place massive restrictions on the scope for policy action; and that policy needs to start where people are at present in terms of their diverse preferences and traditions. Trajectories are not pre-ordained; there is scope to influence the evolution of diet to get better outcomes for health and agriculture.
Second, IFPRI’s modelling reveals some surprising results. Indeed, one of the reasons we run models is to check for such surprises. Meat consumption that seemed a priori to matter immensely for future agricultures in terms of demand for feed grains and, by extension, the cost of many foods, turns out to be less important in this regard than imagined.
Third, Politicians do not want to do something about this. Meddling with people’s diets is unpopular.
There is too much salt and sugar in diets.
An example of the resistance is this Daily Show attack on the ban on supersized soft drinks.
Britain had rationing in WW2 and that actually led to better diets, but the policy was dropped when the war was over.
There are also debates about rising health costs. Part of the issue of rising health costs is decreasing health and more sickness because of obesity.
On the other side, there was a Daily Show Back in Black segment where a fat black man was mocked for his lawsuit against MacDonalds. It showed the man saying he did not know the french fries would make him fat.
Lewis Black – Did not know. Did NOT Know ! that fat cooked in fat would make you fat.
It is funny and ridiculous. But if we want everyone to be healthier we have to help the stupid and the weak willed as well. If that means more nanny state laws. It probably is where we have to go.
However, as noted policy and political will are not cutting it. Like other disease and health issues it will be technology that will do most of the solution. There is a lot of progress to exercise pills and an add on to smartphones to analyze and advise on diet and eatibg. There are a lot of wearable monitors to family and encourage walking and exercise. Gene therapy may ultimately be needed to help us become resistant to unhealthy eating or to build in the desire or motivation for healthy living.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.
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