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Obesity: A Global Problem with Local Roots



Obesity is a global problem that affects 300 million people but local policies are needed to control an epidemic which is likely to get worse before it gets better, a leading expert said.

Professor Peter Kopelman, president of the European Association for the Study of Obesity (EASO), believes it could be five or 10 years until the epidemic peaks.

"We need to have strategies at a national and local level to tackle the immediate problems that every population is facing," he said ahead of the start of the 13th European Congress on Obesity in Prague.

"There are priorities on a national level because people who are suffering most are largely those that are socially deprived. It is particular ethnic groups and particular cultures that seem to be suffering from the medical complications of obesity."

Up to 20 percent of men and 25 percent of women in European countries are considered obese. Yugoslavia, Greece, Romania and the Czech Republic have among the highest rates, while the Netherlands, Norway, Hungary and Switzerland have the lowest.

"What we need to do is target population subgroups to try and immediately reduce the prevalence of obesity in those groups," Kopelman added.

FOOD, ENERGY, GENES, ECONOMICS

High fat, energy dense diets and sedentary lifestyles over the past 20 to 30 years, along with economic growth, urbanization and the globalization of food markets have contributed to expanding waistlines around the globe and have resulted in more than one billion overweight adults and at least 155 million overweight children worldwide.

Scientists are also learning more about the role of genetics and the influence of adipose tissue in the body and how it alters the energy balance within human beings.

"No one is predestined to become obese but people are certainly predisposed," said Kopelman.

Targeting people and children with lifestyle measures should be a priority to stem the problem.

People also need to be better educated about the impact of their diet not only on their waistlines but on their future health.

"I still don't think people understand the fundamental causes, nor do they relate increasing weight with potential dangers, whether it be heart disease or diabetes," he added.

Obesity is linked with an increased risk of certain cancers, osteoarthritis and other complications.

While local and national strategies focus on people most at risk of becoming overweight or obesity, Kopelman said international efforts could tackle the wider issues.

"There need to be coordinated strategies across the globe because a lot of the problem relates to the manufacture, the promotion, the production of food, as well as the decline in physical activity both in the developed and the developing world," he said.

Poor countries are faced with what he called a "double whammy."

"They still have a population that is undernourished and now also, with increasing affluence and availability of food, a population that is becoming increasingly obese."


Reference Source 89

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