Obesity: the new malnourishment

Obesity: the new malnourishment

We’re used to hearing about nations suffering from malnourishment and even starvation, but the world is now officially obese.

Unlikely as this may sound, you can check these statistics in real time.

At the time of writing this post the following statistics hold true:

  • 896,186,711 people are undernourished in the world right now
  • 1,582,787,880 overweight people
  • 527,595,966 people are clinically obese


So, can we say that obesity is the ‘new starvation’? Many would say yes, but how did this situation occur?

Well, much of it is partly down to the increasing consumption of processed foods. Certain ingredients and food stuffs have also been earmarked as culprits, including:

  • Monosodium glutamate
  • High fructose corn syrup (known as glucose-fructose syrup in the UK)
  • Aspartame and other artificial sweeteners
  • Trans fats

Isn’t this just an American problem?

No, as global corporations spread their tentacles worldwide offering processed food to a wider audience, the problem is worsening and people worldwide are getting fatter.

The NHS statistics for the UK alone are alarming.

Now, we are told that we can gauge whether someone is a healthy weight by their body mass index. A healthy body mass would be between 18.5 and 25. Nevertheless, in 2011 only 39% of women and 34% of men fell into the healthy range!

Obesity rates are also growing and we can see the extent of this since 1993:

  • Back in 1993 16% of women and 13% of men were classed as obese, with a body mass index of 30 or more
  • This rose by 2011 to 2012 to 26% of women and 24% of men falling into the obese category

As you can see, it’s a ‘growing’ concern if you’ll pardon the pun! Unfortunately, it’s also a trend that on the rise.

Obesity is undernourishment

So, are all these Brits of a portly stature because they have been feasting on the finest food? Of course not! The driving force behind the epidemic is the abundance of cheap, high calorie processed foods which are laden with fat and sugar.

Unfortunately, our biology also plays a part in this and we can partly thank our cavemen ancestors for this. We evolved in an environment where we never knew whether to expect feast or famine. Seeking out high calorie and fatty foods, as science suggests, is hardwired into us! The problem is that now these foods are abundant, easily accessible and we eat as much of them as we like.

The issue is that many of these processed junk foods have little in the way of nutritional value. So, whilst people munch on junk, a paradoxical set of events starts to occur. They get fatter, yet their bodies are literally being starved of nutrients. Some experts have even suggested that their state of malnutrition is actually driving them to consume even more.

Where does exercise come into this?

Well, we all know how important it is for maintaining good health, yet it’s still possible for gym bunnies to gain weight. There is an expression famous amongst body builders “Abs are made in the kitchen.”

What this means is that diet is the key factor when it comes to maintaining a healthy weight, although nobody denies that exercise is important!

How do we reverse this trend?

Well, for a start, just look at the deals in your local supermarket. You’ll see that most are on multipacks of snacks, biscuits and other empty calories.

What people can do is to seek out local produce and start to eat more seasonal vegetables and fruit, whole and unprocessed foods. Proper cuts of meat that originate from farms with high standards of animal welfare are far healthier than any processed meat products you’ll find on a supermarket shelf.

Is it a question of education?

Well, this is tricky and I credit most adults with enough intelligence to know what constitutes a healthy diet!

Personally, I think it’s a case of creating a new food culture based on affordable and accessible healthy food for all.

Becca Cobham is an experienced blogger and content manager. She is passionate about real local food and how it can benefit health and vitality. We’re stoked to have her as part of the Food Hub team.

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