Experts: obesity is a bigger threat than AIDS or bird flu

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Friday, September 8, 2006

From September 3 to 8, experts gathered at the 10th International Congress on Obesity in Sydney, Australia, to discuss what they call the worldwide "obesity epidemic". According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 1 billion people in the world today are overweight, and 300 million of those are obese. "Obesity and overweight pose a major risk for serious diet-related chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and stroke, and certain forms of cancer", a WHO fact sheet states. According to AP, experts at the conference "have warned that obesity is a bigger threat than AIDS or bird flu, and will easily overwhelm the world's health care systems if urgent action is not taken".

Of particular concern is the large number of overweight children. Dr. Stephan Rossner from Sweden's Karolinska University Hospital, a leading obesity expert who was present at the conference, has warned that as a result of the increasing number of overweight children, "we will have, within a decade or two, a number of young people who are on kidney dialysis. There will not be organs for everybody". UK-based International Obesity Task Force has said that junk food manufacturers target children, for example, through Internet advertising, chat rooms, text messages, and "advergames" on websites. Politicians are not doing enough to address the problem of obesity, including childhood obesity, the experts said.

Big Mac hamburger, a well-known piece of junk food.

According to Wikipedia, examples of junk food include, but are not limited to: hamburgers, pizza, candy, soda, and salty foods like potato chips and french fries. A well-known piece of junk food is the Big Mac. The US version of just one Big Mac burger contains 48% of calories from fat, 47% US Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of fat, 52% RDA of saturated fat, 26% RDA of cholesterol, 42% RDA of sodium, and little nutritional value. It also has 18% of calories from protein. According to WHO, most people need only about 5% calories from protein. Staples such as rice, corn, baked potatoes, pinto beans, as well as fruits and vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, oranges, and strawberries, provide more than this required amount of protein without the unhealthy amounts of fats or sodium, without cholesterol, and with plenty of fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

Both WHO and the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) define overweight in adults as a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 25 or above, and obese as a BMI of 30 or above. To combat overweight and obesity, WHO recommends that, among other things, people should be taking the following steps

  • eating more fruit and vegetables, as well as nuts and whole grains;
  • engaging in daily moderate physical activity for at least 30 minutes;
  • cutting the amount of fatty, sugary foods in the diet;
  • moving from saturated animal-based fats to unsaturated vegetable-oil based fats.


– "Obesity and overweight" fact sheet from the World Health Organization

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