In this excerpt from an article in the current issue of Extraordinary Health magazine, Jordan takes a global view of how America is taking the lead in obesity. For the rest of this article and more, check out the quarterly issue of Extraordinary Health magazine, available now at local health food stores.
In Greek mythology, Atlas was commonly depicted with a great globe on his shoulders, like some overambitious shot-putter, holding up the world in an agonized asymmetrical position.
If Atlas were holding up the earth today, he’d better truss his loins to lift all of the overweight people inhabiting the planet. For what surely must be a first in the annals of recorded history, demographers have determined that there are more overweight people living among us than those who are undernourished. According to the World Health Organization, one billion adults are overweight (of which 300 million are obese), meaning they weigh at least fifty pounds more than their ideal body weight. At the other end of the spectrum, the number of rail-thin starving and undernourished individuals remains steady at 600 million.
For thousands of years, our forebears eked out an existence that depended upon the sweat of their brows and whether or not nature provided bountiful crops at harvest time. Hunger was their constant companion; famine, their frequent worry. I can’t imagine what went through the minds of desperate parents who held their starving, frightened children to their breasts and wondered what they could do to provide something to eat.
The miracle of modernization has taken care of much of that problem, although as someone who supports the relief efforts of Life Outreach and Compassion International, I’m aware that far too many fall asleep each night with gnawing hunger pangs in their growling stomachs. If the World Health Organization’s figures are correct, at least one-sixth of the global population has a different dilemma—they’re too big from engorging themselves with greasy, high-fat, low-nutrient, chemical-laced, mass-produced foods. The global growth of industry and technology has led to an abundance of cheap, high-caloric meals, unhealthy sugary snacks, and a steep decrease in physical activity, resulting in one of the most blatantly visible, yet most neglected, public health problems in the history of mankind.
The skyrocketing ascent of obesity in both developed and developing regions inspired the World Health Organization to coin a new phrase for this occurrence: globesity. A nutritional expert for the World Bank warned that if corrective measures aren’t taken soon, globesity could become as devastating as malnutrition, especially to the economies of the poorest countries. In other words, the global obesity epidemic could become more harmful to the world community than starvation.
What an astonishing turn of events! I can remember Mom reminding me to clean my plate because of the “starving children in China,” but she would have to amend her example if she were raising me today. Ten percent of city-dwelling Chinese children suffer from obesity—a number that’s increasing by a shocking 8 percent per year. In Japan, obesity in nine-year-olds has tripled. Twenty percent of Australian adolescents and children are overweight or obese. “The prevalence of obesity in Europe has tripled in the past two decades; half of all adults and 20 percent of all children are overweight,” according to an article by the Associated Press.
That’s just the tip of a massive iceberg that’s threatening to sink the health of young and old from Anchorage, Alaska, to Zurich, Switzerland. The tentacles of globesity reach into every continent and grip every major city in the world. We’re seeing hundreds and hundreds of millions consume Western-like convenience foods, shift away from physically demanding jobs in agriculture, and devote their growing leisure time to watching TV and surfing the Internet. They’re adopting this new lifestyle rather rapidly, unaware that they are putting themselves at risk for chronic diseases that could shave years off of their lives.
Like an Olympic flag bearer, the American contingent is leading the globesity parade. Not only are we the fattest nation on Earth, but we’re also ballooning to extremely obese proportions at an alarming rate. While most people have heard that two-thirds of American adults aged twenty years and older are overweight (which is defined as having a body mass index or BMI of 25 or higher), the number of those who are extremely obese—at least 100 poundsoverweight --has quadrupled since the 1980s. Twenty years ago, one in two hundred adults were candidates to purchase two seats when traveling on Southwest Airlines; today that number is one in fifty.
Think about that the next time you board a crowded flight.