Name me one animal except, of course, the human being, which allows its young to overeat, or eat the wrong things, to the point at which they become obese, bloated and ill. There isn't one, except perhaps the guppy, a fish so stupid it eats until it explodes. It is not a very nice epitaph for Humankind, is it?
Yesterday, October 11, the United Nations Organization revealed shocking figures which indicate that childhood obesity has risen by tenfold in the last four decades, a ticking time bomb referred to in this column in January 2016. The report further claims that unless drastic action is taken, by the year 2022, so in just five years' time, the number of obese children will be greater than the number of those who are moderately or severely underweight.
The study was backed by the UNO and was undertaken by a joint project by Imperial College London and the World Health Organization headed by Fiona Bull (Programme Coordinator for Surveillance and Population-based Prevention of Noncommunicable Diseases [NCDs] at the WHO), who called the situation a "global health crisis" which is threatening to worsen in the near future, "unless we take drastic action".
The study, released on World Obesity Day (Wednesday October 11), carried out research into Body Mass Index (BMI), which is reached by dividing the weight in kilograms by the square of the height in centimeters, or in the imperial scale, dividing the weight in pounds by the square of the height in inches then multiplied by 703. This indicates the amount of body fat. The study group was composed of around 130 million people, among these 19.5 million aged between five and nineteen.
The study revealed that obesity rates among children and adolescents increased from under one per cent in 1975 to 6 per cent of girls and 8 per cent of boys in 2016. Combined, the number of obese girls and boys has risen by ten times over this forty-year period, from 11 million in 1975 to 124 million in 2016 plus an additional 213 million who were not yet over the obesity line but were considered overweight.
One of the main authors of the study, Professor Majid Ezzati of Imperial College London, declared that these "worrying trends" are the result of marketing policies used by food companies and also the fact that healthy, nutritious foods are too expensive for many families to buy.
The effect of being overweight, and especially obese, is increased risk of diseases and conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol levels, heart disease, circulatory problems and even certain types of cancer.
The WHO is going to publish a plan which gives guidance in actions to halt the trend and is training healthcare professionals to interact in communities identifying children who are obese or overweight; the report states that there is a need for regulations and taxes to help protect children from unhealthy foods. As usual, great ideas in theory but in practice, let us ask whether foods are clearly labelled in a way that everyone understands the information given? Do unhealthy packets of food and drinks carry a public health warning, as cigarettes do? And if they are unhealthy then why are they manufactured and sold?
The bottom line is that your body needs a certain number of calories to function, more for an active male, fewer for an active female, fewer still for those who are sedentary and so on; when fewer calories than the level needed are consumed, the body loses weight, when the number of calories exceeds the limit required, weight is put on. It is not rocket science. These days there are APPs which can be downloaded onto a cell phone, the user introduces the foodstuffs consumed and exercise taken, and the APP tells the user how (s)he is performing.
In the good old days, people had common sense, would eat what was put before them by a housewife or grandmother, which was honest, healthy food and not a pile of chemicals blitzed in the microwave by an overworked single mother who has rushed home from the office before starting her second job, nor was it comfort food which people these days stuff themselves with because they have unhealthy schedules and allow themselves to get hungry, instead of eating a biscuit or piece of fruit every two hours. In the good old days there was a medium sized plate on the table, half of which was filled with salad or greens or other legumes, one quarter carbohydrates such as rice, potatoes or pasta and the other quarter, animal or vegetable protein.
As usual the human being has gone way out of line and has forgotten the most simple thing of all: how and what to eat. The fundamental question is, would you allow someone else to poison your child? Then, why do you?
Photo: Por Dietmar Rabich, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30026855
*Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey has worked as a correspondent, journalist, deputy editor, editor, chief editor, director, project manager, executive director, partner and owner of printed and online daily, weekly, monthly and yearly publications, TV stations and media groups printed, aired and distributed in Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, East Timor, Guinea-Bissau, Portugal, Mozambique and São Tomé and Principe Isles; the Russian Foreign Ministry publication Dialog and the Cuban Foreign Ministry Official Publications. He has spent the last two decades in humanitarian projects, connecting communities, working to document and catalog disappearing languages, cultures, traditions, working to network with the LGBT communities helping to set up shelters for abused or frightened victims and as Media Partner with UN Women, working to foster the UN Women project to fight against gender violence and to strive for an end to sexism, racism and homophobia. A Vegan, he is also a Media Partner of Humane Society International, fighting for animal rights. He is Director and Chief Editor of the Portuguese version of Pravda.Ru.