Towards the end of December last year, China released its “Physical Activity Guidelines for Chinese People (2021)” after its State Council found that more than 50% of Chinese adults are overweight and that obesity rates among urban and rural residents of all ages were rising. In particular, a study a year ago found that 20 percent of children between the ages of six and 17, and ten percent of children under six, were obese. Given that China was once considered one of the leanest populations, this must have been a cause for concern, hence the government’s decision to encourage physical activity.
China is one of many countries where the infiltration of Western fast food culture has strayed somewhat from traditional diets. We have also seen it in Guyana, where over the past 15 years there has been a plethora of fast food chains offering deep fried and full sized dishes, and a move away from home cooked meals. These changes, coupled with improved lifestyles due to rising income levels and technological advancements such as video games and home streaming services, which have led to more people becoming sedentary, have contributed to the increase in the world’s obese population.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), today more than 40 percent of all men and women (2.2 billion people) are overweight or obese, and unhealthy diets are linked to at least eight million deaths per year. In addition, according to the WHO, up to 2020, 39 million children under five were overweight or obese, while 340 million children and adolescents aged five to 19 were overweight or obese.
However, unlike China, no other country has addressed or is addressing this issue proactively. At the World Conference on Food Governance in December last year, in addition to tackling hunger, health officials noted that collectively the world seemed comfortable with an unhealthy system of highly processed foods. prepared with large amounts of fat, salt and sugar. While the sale of these foods enriches the conglomerates that drive them, they are literally killing people.
The conference noted that before Covid-19, more than ten million deaths per year could be attributed to unhealthy diets, and the pandemic put the world’s obese population at risk of disease or death once infected. General guidance was given on what countries could do to mitigate the obesity epidemic; it remains to be seen whether any have been implemented. It should be noted here that apart from people’s addiction to unhealthy foods, manufacturers and fast food chains have deep pockets and do not hesitate to lobby governments.
There is also another side of the coin. According to forecasts released this month, the obesity treatment market, which will include services as well as drugs such as pills and patches, is expected to grow exponentially. Major players include Kellogg Company, Atkins, Medtronic, F Hoffmann-La Roche, Pfizer, Merck, Roche, GlaxoSmithKline, AstraZeneca, Shionogi, Herbalife International, Bayer AG, Amway, the Carlyle Group and Lifesciences. Lack of government action is a boon for diet companies as well as Big Pharma, which appears to be investing heavily in anti-obesity drugs and dietary supplements, in addition to their already high interest in drugs that treat disease. chronic noncommunicable. diseases. In fact, the dietary supplement market is expected to reach US $ 349.4 billion by 2026.
It is more than strange that so many people who want or need to lose weight would rather invest in so-called magic diet pills rather than relying on a healthy diet and exercise. Guyana’s markets offer a cornucopia of fresh fruit and vegetables, but the appeal of fast food restaurants and their convenience remain strong. The ads, which usually show happy people eating burgers, fries, and fried chicken, also help seal the deal. The cost to health and the country is hardly taken into account. By the way, this newspaper reported in 2019 that Guyana’s French fries imports were estimated at some $ 650 million.
While China’s approach to eradicating obesity may not be the best for all countries – one imagines people would be reluctant for governments to issue exercise guidelines – at least it does. proactively tackles the problem. The shortages that were created when the world was forced to contract in 2020 point to the need for global food policy reform, with each country taking into account sustainability, the health of its people, the environment and change. climate.
The longer we delay the decolonization of our food systems, the worse it will be. Food insecurity is a real threat that can no longer be ignored.
—News from Stabroek