How to Fight the Obesity Epidemic

When one hears the word "overweight" and "obesity", they have preconceived notions about it. However, they are more commonly assessed by using one’s body mass index or BMI for short. It is essentially defined as the weight in kilograms divided by the square of the height in meters (kg/m2 ).

A BMI over 25 kg/m2 is defined as overweight, and a BMI of over 30 kg/m2 as obese. These figures are used in the assessment, but the risks of disease in all populations can increase progressively from lower BMI levels.

The adult mean BMI levels of 22-23 kg/m2 are found in Africa and Asia, while levels of 25-27 kg/m2 are prevalent across North America, Europe, and in some Latin American, North African and Pacific Island countries. BMI increases amongst middle-aged elderly people, who are at the greatest risk of health complications. Studies have shown that in countries undergoing nutrition transition, over nutrition often co-exists with under nutrition. People with a BMI below 18.5 kg/m2 tend to be underweight.

In defining the magnitude of the obesity problem, Tommy G. Thompson, US Secretary of Health and Human Services pointed out in the past that no US state had an obesity rate higher than 14%. At present, there is no state except Colorado that has an obesity rate lower than 15%.

One reason, said Janet Voûte who is the Chief Executive Officer of the World Heart Federation, Switzerland, is a cultural shift. She cites for instance that the time the average family takes preparing meals has gone down from two hours to 15 minutes in the past few years. That is a staggering change of pace and that has most Americans paying with their very dear lives.

Mayo said that corporations bear some responsibility for the problem. Because of rising health costs, he said, "we’re essentially subsidizing the food industry to peddle junk food to kids". He suggested examining the possibility of taxes on fatty foods. Richard W. Edelman, President and Chief Executive Officer, Edelman PR Worldwide, USA, said one appropriate challenge is "to make good-for-you foods cool". It is not that easy though. 

Thompson feels that regulation is not the ideal solution. Multi-national corporations like Unilever, Pepsi and Coke had all voluntarily changed their products and practices to respond to clamor for growing health concerns. There was the pressure on them to do their own regulation in coming up with better, more healthy foods. It was revealed that Unilever was asked to reduce trans-fatty acids in their products. Unilever’s response was dramatic. It eliminated them altogether.

One of the most famous talk show celebrity hosts, Oprah Winfrey recounts that "Lots of people want to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down." She vividly describes the scenario that made her quite laughable herself when she was funny-looking and fat when she was in school. 

Now that obesity is almost an epidemic, people should look for ways to counter it and encourage those who need guidance and a helping hand. After all, you might be as likely to get the disease in the long run if you don’t live your life right.