Obesity and overweight 'on the rise in nearly every country'

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By Chris Harris
Obesity and overweight 'on the rise in nearly every country'

Here are four takeaways to digest from the Global Nutrition Report, which acts as a report card on the world’s progress in tackling problems in this area.

Obesity and overweight is on the rise in nearly every country

The report paints a bleak picture for the number of people obese or overweight in the world.

It says the problem is ballooning in nearly every region and country, and that it represents a ‘staggering global challenge.’

Two fifths of the world’s five billion adults are overweight or obese, according to the report, while one-in-12 of this number suffer from type 2 diabetes, which can be caused, in part, by being heavier than is healthy.

The number of children under five who were overweight was 41 million in 2014, or, as a proportion, 6.1 percent. That is up from 31 million, or 4.8 percent, in 1990.

Albania, Libya, Montenegro and Georgia were the worst performers among the countries studied when it came to under fives being overweight – with a rate of around 20 percent or more.

The United States, Turkey, Libya, Lebanon and Qatar were among the countries where more than two-thirds of adults were overweight or obese.

‘Being malnourished is the new normal’

“One in three people suffer from some form of malnutrition,” said Lawrence Haddad, co-chair of the Global Nutrition Report. “We now live in a world where being malnourished is the new normal. It is a world that we must all claim as totally unacceptable.”

Malnutrition can cover a wide gamut of health problems, including obesity, anemia and stunting, where children do not grow as tall as others of the same age.

The report claims 11 percent of GDP is lost in Asia and Africa each year because of malnutrition and that it puts a ‘massive strain on already fragile health systems’.

Overall, it says, the world is off-course when it comes to hitting targets agreed at the 2013 World Health Assembly, including a 40 percent reduction in the number of children under five who are stunted.

Malnutrition is responsible for half of deaths of children under five

The Global Nutrition Report also says an estimated 45 percent of deaths of children under five are linked to malnutrition.

This, however, hides the fact that progress has been made in this area.

For example, the number of children under five suffering from stunting is declining in every region except Africa and Oceania, according to the report.

Overall, of 667 million children under five worldwide, 159 million are too short for their age (stunting), 50 million are not heavy enough for their height (wasting) and 41 million are overweight.

Better data is key

The report calls for more political leadership and financial investment into tackling malnutrition but it also highlights the problem of missing data.

“Data gaps are a significant roadblock to nutrition progress throughout the world. Every country has a different nutrition context and should gather the national and subnational data it needs to understand – and act on – its own unique situation.”

English chef Jamie Oliver, speaking from the 2016 World Health Assembly in Geneva, said it was important to have data so that under-performing countries could be held to account.

He said: “We hold them to commitments, which on a global government level is really useful, it gets nicely competitive… you can say ‘why is that government not doing it’.”

“We kick their ass,” he joked.