Obesity as an International Issue: Feeding Frenzy

Obesity has lumbered onto the international agenda. The January meeting of the executive board of the World Health Organization failed to agree on a global strategy on diet, physical activity and health. The United States questioned the science underpinning the plan, which included cuts in salt and sugar intake across the world; critics of the American position claim that it was guided by the fast food lobby. The World Health Assembly finally adopted a voluntary plan in May. A battle of the bulge might become just as pressing as that against poverty.

The World Today Updated 16 October 2020 Published 1 June 2004 4 minute READ

Keith Suter

Director of Studies, International Law Association (Australian Branch)

It is an irony that, with so many people in the world going without food and the United Nations declaring this the International Year of Rice, one of the World Health Organization (WHO)’s main issues is to do with over-eating.

But then, some developing countries – which are normally seen as the ones lacking food – may also have citizens who are over-fed. Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, then WHO Director-General, said in April last year: ‘Cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancers, obesity – these are no longer rich-country problems. The majority of chronic disease cases are occurring in the developing world.’

Obesity is becoming a major international issue and its prevalence can be explained partly as a result of economic globalisation and technology. It is also, ironically, a symbol of the success of modernisation. The world has solved some problems but created others in the process.

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