Obesity, long considered solely an “American problem” is now recognized as a concern for countries all over the globe. Doctors in Europe, the Middle East, and Australia are tackling soaring rates; the rising rate among children is being cited by many as the most alarming statistic. Lack of adequate exercise and poor diet are the chief contributing factors to the rising pandemic.
Reuters reports that obesity in Europe is so commonplace now that, it is becoming accepted as “the norm.” The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that about one-third of European teenagers are well above their healthy weight ranges. Dr. Zsuzsanna Jakab, regional WHO director, blamed a combination of low exercise levels and a culture that promotes cheap, convenient foods high in sugars, fats and salt. Dr. Jakab went so far as to describe the lifestyle as “deadly.”
Some very similar issues are found in Saudi Arabia as well. A study stated that Saudis spend over $130 million on obesity related medial treatment per year. The country also reported a high rate of Diabetes, which as has spread at an alarming rate of 30 percent over the last decade. Dr. Abdul Majeed Al-Abdulkarim, of King Saudi University for Health Sciences stated that 60 percent of the Saudi population over 16 is overweight.
As with Europe, a major player in Middle Eastern obesity rates is lack of exercise. During a recent health conference, speakers from various Middle Eastern countries presented their experiences with programs to promote this level of physical activity. Dr. Ahmed Al Sharif, secretary-general of Dubai Sports Council, said programs such as the Dubai Pulse program helped to increase the number of adults getting regular exercise to over 40 percent.
Australia and New Zealand have both declared a need to fight the upsurge in obesity problem within their countries. New Zealand is No. 23 in a global ranking of countries with the healthiest diets. This ranks behind the United States (No. 21). While Australia did better, coming in at No. 8, its child obesity rate stays at about 25 percent.
According to a report released by the WHO, countries such as France benefit from an aggressive government-backed approach to their peoples’ health-related habits. Some forms of “junk food” receive higher sales tax in order to discourage purchase by shoppers. Other countries, such as Ireland which have less government regulation, saw a considerable increase in fast-food restaurants and consumption recently. Boyd Swinburn, Nutrition professor at Auckland University in New Zealand, said starting a community-based nutrition advocacy group is great, but the government needs to establish guidelines. Swinburn had previously released a study, detailing the rising child obesity in New Zealand. He claimed the New Zealand government is failing its kids with its lack of action.
The WHO recommends school age children get at least 60 minutes of rigorous exercise a day. Adults should exercise for about 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week. The WHO reports that the average adult needs somewhere between 2,000 and 2,500 calories per day. Thanks in part to the increased level of fast-food consumption, a large percent of adults are consuming over 3,000 calories per day.
Doctors and public health professionals are taking the problem of global obesity seriously. If health experts’ recommendations are followed through on, these rising rates may well be going down in the near future.
By Ian Erickson