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Overweight People Outnumber Malnourished

Overweight people now outnumber the hungry
By Nick Squires in Sydney

The number of overweight people in the world has overtaken the number of malnourished for the first time, with a billion people considered heavier than advised.

While almost one in six of the estimated world population of 6.5 billion is now overweight or obese, about 800 million people do not have enough to eat, an international conference in Australia was told yesterday.

"The reality is that globally far more obesity than under-nutrition exists," said Prof Barry Popkin, a nutritionist from the University of North Carolina.

As Prof Popkin said that the transition from a starving world to an obese one was accelerating, experts gathered at a meeting near Brisbane of the International Association of Agricultural Economists said the lead in the fight against expanding waistlines would have to be taken by governments.

Prof Popkin said that while the number of hungry people was falling gradually, the ranks of the obese were growing at an alarming rate. They now number about 300 million worldwide.

"Obesity is the norm globally and under-nutrition, while still important in a few countries and in targeted populations in many others, is no longer the dominant disease," he said.

Obesity is now affecting developing countries due to a change in diet to more fatty foods, a decline in physical work, the growth in car ownership and more hours spent in front of the television set. Overweight people run a higher risk of developing diseases such as type two diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.

Prof Popkin suggested that governments should subsidise fruit and vegetables and impose higher taxes on soft drinks and sugary foods to address the obesity epidemic.

The United States, with one of the highest rates of obesity in the world, was compared with Japan, with one of the lowest. Prof Benjamin Senauer, of the University of Minnesota, said that the average Japanese man walked four miles a day while almost a quarter of American adults might walk only between 1,000 and 3,000 steps a day.

"Japanese cities are based on efficient public transport - and walking," he said. "The average American commutes to work, drives to the supermarket and does as little walking as possible."

Physical activity was no longer part of the everyday lives of many Americans, who instead had to make a special - and often costly - effort to engage in exercise, such as playing golf or using a gym.

The World Health Organisation describes obesity as "one of the greatest public health challenges of the 21st century". In Britain, as in many European countries, the level of obesity has tripled in 20 years and is still rising.

About two thirds of British adults are now considered overweight or obese. Of these, about a fifth of men and almost a quarter of women are obese: at least two to three stones overweight.

Over the past decade obesity among children has risen markedly, doubling in six-year-olds and trebling among 15-year-olds.

"Obesity and overweight bring with them significant risks of chronic disease and premature death," Prof Senauer said.

Source telegraph.co.uk