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Obesity: The New Global Crisis

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Most people are well aware of humanity’s constant struggle against famine and food insecurity. According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), around 925 million people across the globe went hungry in 2010. The number is staggering, but it’s still down from over 1 billion in 2009.  To make this horrific number a little less abstract, let’s consider it in human terms: FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf points out that “with a child dying every six seconds because of undernourishment-related problems, hunger remains the world’s largest tragedy and scandal.”

But there’s another side to the world’s nutrition problem, and it grows more pronounced with each passing year: Obesity. According to the World Health Organization, over 1 billion people are overweight. Of that billion-and-change, hundreds of millions are obese. By numerous accounts, this trend seems set to continue over the foreseeable future.

Taken together, this means that the number of obese people — and, consequentially, obesity-related deaths — may soon exceed the number of people dying of starvation each year. Some experts believe we may have already reached this threshold. The number of overweight people in the world already exceeds the number of people starving. As more people progress from being overweight to becoming obese, the statistics paint a disturbing picture of the future: Imagine living in a world the number of people dying from obesity dwarfs the number of people dying of starvation.

It may seem counterintuitive at first, and that’s largely because obesity has often been seen as a first-world problem. Yet this is not the case.  India, for example, has both a high rate of hunger in rural areas and a shocking growth of obesity in urbanized regions. And India is not alone.

Since 1980 the rate of obesity worldwide has skyrocketed, and much of this growth has occurred in developing countries. And, while statistics prove that the international stereotype of overweight Americans has a ring of truth, the United States isn’t the most overweight country. That dubious honor goes to Nauru, an island in the South Pacific, where an estimated 94.5% of the nation is overweight.  (The U.S. takes the #8 spot, with 79% of its population overweight.) While millions of people still die of starvation each year, the number of hungry people across the planet is declining, while the number of overweight people continues to increase.

Obesity is changing the world. So how can we fix it? Let me know what you think in the comments, and check out the news clip below for more information on obesity in India:

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