Obesity isn't a problem in just wealthy nations anymore. This past December, a panel at the New York Academy of Sciences titled "Super-Sized World: The Global Obesity Epidemic" declared that obesity is now a problem in low and middle-income countries, too. There are now 1 billion overweight and 300 million obese people worldwide. Considering the negative effects of obesity on human health-including diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, and cancer-this obesity epidemic is a public health crisis. Genetics play an important role in obesity, but environment is a huge factor. For example, "in the United States, the vast majority of people live in an environment of abundant, cheap, high-fat, calorie dense foods." Americans also don't get a lot of exercise. Even the environment that a fetus develops in can determine its later likelihood of obesity.
So why is obesity on the rise in the developing world? Soft drinks and other calorie dense foods are cheaper, and fresh produce is more expensive. In developing nations, however, there is sometimes a divide between a population of obese adults and undernourished children. Called "the Nutrition Transition," this divide is partially because of migrations to urban centers. City life tends to promote obesity-increasing calories and decreasing vegetables. And undernourished children are more likely to consume excess calories as adults. With so many undernourished children, the obesity epidemic will intensify over the next several decades.
At "Super-Sized World," experts did suggest solutions. Working with schools to promote healthy lifestyles and community interventions are two possibilities. For example, there are now healthy hawker stations in Singapore. Still, the best approach to fighting obesity remains up for debate.