• Switzerland's news in English

Action urged to combat global obesity 'pandemic'

Michael Mainville/AFP · 28 Jan 2013, 11:09

Published: 28 Jan 2013 11:09 GMT+01:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Speaking at the World Economic Forum, health, nutrition and fitness experts said the world's increasingly deadly obesity crisis needs to be tackled with the same determination policy-makers once took to fighting smoking.

With our food more and more unhealthy and our lives increasingly sedentary, answers are needed to address a crisis that is driving up diabetes, boosting heart disease and already killing 2.8 million adults per year, they said.

The current figure of 1.4 billion adults already overweight globally is set to soar, Linda Fried, dean of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, told a panel on obesity at the annual gathering of the global elite, which ended on the weekend.

"In another 20 years, if things continue to increase the way they are, it may well be that 50-60 percent of the world's adult population will be overweight," Fried said.

"If this were an infectious disease we might call it a pandemic," she said.

"It's not regional, it's global, it's increasing rapidly, it's continuing to escalate  — those are the basic definitions of a pandemic," she said.

The first step to resolving the crisis, the experts said, is overcoming the instinctive reaction many have to obesity — blaming the obese themselves instead of the conditions around them.

"In 30 years, the percent of the world's population that is overweight or obese has doubled," Fried said.

"There's no evidence that there has been a collective global loss of willpower."

The blame rests instead with the easy availability — and relative cheapness — of higher-calorie foods and increasing urbanization that has led to less active lifestyles, the experts said.

'Inactivity crisis'

Lisa MacCallum Carter, Nike's Vice-President for Access to Sport, said obesity was linked to an "inactivity crisis" as a result of urbanisation.
She said significant amounts of daily exercise from incidental movement had been lost, with for example people now sending emails instead of walking across the office to talk to a colleague.
She cited research showing that Americans are now 32 percent less active than in 1967, and if current trends continue they will be 50 percent less active by 2030.
In just half a generation, she said, the Chinese had also become 45 percent less active.
At the same time, the foods we eat are becoming less healthy, with fattier, higher-salt and artificial products easier to produce and distribute, the experts said.
"The ways we see markets working are accelerating these trends very rapidly," said Marc Van Ameringen, executive director of the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN).
Some governments, as in the United States, are encouraging this by subsidizing industrial food production, as with corn syrup, which is widely used in prepared foods as a sweetener and thickener, he said.
"Look at the money that goes into producing corn and corn-syrup products, compared to the subsidies that go into producing fruit and vegetables," he said.
Fried said some policy-makers have taken encouraging steps to fight obesity, like Mayor Michael Bloomberg of her native New York.
His crusade against junk food has seen the city ban the sale of "supersize" soft drinks and require fast-food restaurants to label menus with calorie information.
The experts said steps like widespread calorie-labelling laws, limits on portion sizes and increased taxes on unhealthy food would make a difference.

Too much blame on food companies?

Paul Bulcke, the CEO of Swiss food giant Nestlé, said too much blame was being laid on food companies.
"It is a very complex problem," he said.

"Yes, we are attacked, but that comes a bit from a society that wants to blame."
He said Nestlé supported "meaningful labelling" of its products and that governments had an obligation to increase nutritional education.
MacCallum Carter of Nike said more had to be done to restore physical activity to daily life.
"On the nutrition side this problem is being looked at in a very sophisticated way," she said.

Story continues below…

"But we're certainly not resolving the physical activity crisis."
The experts said children needed to be involved in sport and individuals, companies and governments needed to work together to boost physical activity, for example by redesigning urban spaces to require more walking.
 "We have a health emergency, it is global and it is of huge dimensions . . . we can only solve it together," Fried said.

Michael Mainville/AFP (news@thelocal.ch)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Illegal immigrant dies after setting himself on fire
The victim was treated at University Hospital Zurich. Photo: University Hospital Zurich

The 45-year-old Tunisian was threatened with deportation.

Swiss government rejects call for second immigration vote
Photo: Justus Blumer/Christophe G

The Swiss government has rejected a popular initiative calling for a revote on plans to limit immigration.

Bern: companies should report salary inequality by law
File photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

The Swiss government wants to force small companies to examine their rates of pay every four years.

Husband in custody after Orbe body identified
File photo: Bas Leenders

The deceased is a 55-year-old woman who lived in the house with her husband.

Presented by MoneyPark
How to get a mortgage in Switzerland
Houses in Zürich. Photo: Pixabay.

Ready to buy? Here’s what you need to know as an expat about Swiss regulations, how to finance your purchase, and why you should use a broker.

Autumn in Switzerland: ten stunning Instagram photos
Photo: Swiss Tourism/Jan Geerk

Switzerland is beautiful in all seasons, but as these photos show, autumn is a special time in the alpine country.

Report: Swiss progress slows on gender equality
File photo: David Soulivet

Globally, it will take 170 years to achieve gender equality, according to the World Economic Forum.

Brothers go to court to stop suicide of sibling
File photo: Lisa Edmonds

Two men have filed a legal bid to prevent the Swiss assisted suicide association Exit from helping their older brother to kill himself.

Wawrinka snubs past form to reach Basel second round
Wawrinka beat local wildcard Marco Chiudinelli. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

US Open champion Stan Wawrinka has reached the second round in Basel after going out in the first round for the past four years.

Villagers asked to help fund bridge renovations
The bridge links the two villages of Veltheim (pictured) and Holderbank. Photo: Lutz Fischer-Lamprecht

The crowdfunding campaign by the two communes is the first of its kind in Switzerland.

Photo: Unterirdisch Ueberleben
Inside Switzerland’s largest nuclear bunker – 40 years on
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Photo: The Local
Ticino firefighters rescue cow from swimming pool
Photo: Antoni Da Campo
Vegan wins battle to be accepted by Swiss army
Photo: Swiss Tourism
Ten Swiss ski resorts named most expensive in Europe
Photo: Randy Kashka
Swiss women will ‘work for free’ for the rest of year
Photo: Swiss Tourism
Montreux throws hat in Olympic rings
Photo: Swiss Tourism
Seven things you’ll miss about Switzerland if you leave
Photo: Richard Juilliard/AFP
Man makes Geneva airport bomb threat ‘for a joke’
Photo: AFP
Solar Impulse team reveals plans for unmanned plane
File photo: Martin Abegglen
Swiss to vote on passport rules for 3rd gen foreigners
Photo: AFP
Swiss wingsuit hotspot Lauterbrunnen won’t impose ban
Photo: Swiss Tourism
Six reasons Switzerland isn’t as boring as you might think
Photo: Swiss Tourism
Report: Switzerland one of world’s best places for girls
Photo: The Local
Thief returns Swiss cow bells worth thousands
File photo: Wikimedia Commons
One in three rapists isn’t locked up: statistics
Photo: activistin.ch
Tampon-tax protest turns Zurich fountains red
Photo: AFP
Geneva police to lift ban on bearded officers
Photo: Marcel Gillieron/AFP
Suicide chef’s restaurant keeps Michelin stars
Photo: Lara de Salis
11 things the Swiss get tired of hearing abroad
Photo:  Ivo Scholz/Swiss-image.ch
Survey: expats in Switzerland have money but few friends
Photo: AFP
Swiss press criticize Bern’s 'capitulation' on immigration
Photo: Jura Trois Lacs tourism
German ex-policeman is Swiss city’s new hermit
Photo: Dmitry A. Mottl
Ticino votes to favour local workers over foreigners
jobs available