Developing Nations Have a BIG Problem: Obesity

By Satesh Bidaisee, Associate Professor of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, St. George's University
July 12, 2017

Worldwide, one in nine people are malnourished. Nearly all of these folks — a whopping 98 percent — live in developing countries.[1]

That may conjure up images of thin, starved people with sunken faces. But in actuality, many malnourished people are obese.

Malnutrition doesn’t always mean folks aren’t getting enough calories. It can also mean they’re over-nourished — or consuming too much food lacking in nutrients and loaded with carbohydrates, sugars, and fats.[2]

Those people need major diet revamps. It’s up to the international community to help.

Obesity is extremely detrimental to one’s health.[3] It can lead to diabetes, musculoskeletal disorders, and hypertension.[4] Obesity also causes cardiovascular disease and several cancers.[5] In 2015, being overweight or obese was linked to four million deaths worldwide.[6]

It makes sense that obesity is escalating in emerging nations. As areas industrialize, businesses move in and offer cheap, processed foods with little nutritional value.[7] Nutritious foods are harder to access and much pricier — making these inexpensive alternatives attractive to impoverished families struggling to put food on the table.[8]

The World Health Organization has laid out potential solutions to overnutrition, including boosting public education about how to live a healthy lifestyle with good diet and exercise habits.[9]

But overall, international efforts to combat this type of malnutrition are lacking. In a report to the United Nations, Special Rapporteur and nutrition expert Olivier De Shutter lamented, “Governments have been focusing on increasing calorie availability, but they have often been indifferent to what kind of calories are on offer, at what price, to whom they are accessible, and how they are marketed.”[10]

That’s why, at St. George’s University, we prepare our students to tackle the obesity epidemic. Many students take an introductory nutrition class, and a more advanced course called “Medical Nutrition” that gives students an in-depth understanding of how nutrition can both cause and prevent diseases.[11] Medical students also conduct research on obesity in the small island communities of the Caribbean, examining the obesogenic risk factors among school children for obesity.

Further, SGU partners with governments and organizations to provide screening clinics for obesity and other factors leading to chronic diseases. And, we coordinate interventional programs — such as group exercise — to mitigate the development of these conditions.

It’s time for the rest of the international medical community to step up its efforts to combat the over-nutrition epidemic.













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