American Society For Nutrition

A Call to Action: Can We Apply Domestic Lessons Learned to Combat Rising Global Obesity?

A Call to Action: Can We Apply Domestic Lessons Learned to Combat Rising Global Obesity?

Excellence in Nutrition Research and Practice
Posted on 02/24/2014 at 02:42:36 PM by Student Blogger
By Meghan Johnson, MPH

It is no secret that the United States has been fighting an uphill battle against weight gain, often caused by excess food consumption and sedentary lifestyles. But we have made significant efforts to reverse obesity trends in recent years and as a result, The National Center for Health Statistics (1) reported that there was no change in the prevalence of obesity among adults between 2009–2010 and 2011–2012 after decades of steady growth.

Most experts agree that there is still much work to be done—more than one-third (34.9%) of adults were obese in 2011–2012, having a Body Mass Index greater than 30 (1). However, the knowledge gained from the myriad strategies applied over the last several decades may soon be needed to address rising trends in global obesity according to January's report from the Overseas Development Institute, Future Diets (2).

Historically, nutritional challenges of countries like Egypt and Mexico primarily related to undernutrition. But as household incomes rise, families replace cereals with animal products, sugar, and fat, which can quickly lead to expanding waistlines like those we are familiar with here in the United States. The Overseas Development Institute (2) reports, “Between 1980 and 2008, the number of people affected [by overweight and obesity] in the developing world more than tripled, from 250 million to 904 million.”

The inspiration for this post arose from another of the report's conclusions. It states, “There seems to be little will among public and leaders to take the determined action that is needed to influence future diets, but that may change in the face of the serious health implications.”

Let this statement serve as a call to action for those experienced in combating obesity here in America. Combined educational efforts, policy changes, and product reformulations (among other contributors) have successfully stabilized the obesity rate in the United States. Now, the challenge is to apply what we have learned from these strategies that might translate to emerging middle-income countries.

Undoubtedly cultural, financial, and political considerations make implementation unique in every setting. But we must ask ourselves, are there examples of public policies or scalable strategies that have had a measurable impact on diet? (For example, providing recipes or cooking skills training to encourage families to prepare meals at home rather than eating at restaurants or fast food chains.) If so, how we can translate those results to prevent middle-income countries from reaching the tipping point?

1.    Ogden, C.L., Carroll, M.D., Kit, B.K., Flegal, K.M. Prevalence of obesity among adults: United States, 2011–2012. NCHS data brief, No. 131. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2013.
2.    Keats, S. and Wiggins, S. (2014) Future diets: Implications for agriculture and food prices. ODI Report. London: Overseas Development Institute.