Despite recent fitness and plant-based trends, globally people are exercising less and eating more fattier, saltier, calorically-dense, sugary food. This type of diet is a recipe for several diseases. Obesity rates in wealthy nations are plateauing, but developing countries are now getting fatter and sicker due to the influx of cheap calories from overseas (America). Indeed obesity has doubled in the last three decades. As it stands nearly 1.5 billion adults are overweight, and 500 million are obese. One fifth of kids aged five to 17 are overweight, most of them living in developing countries. Obese kids become obese adults, and this excess weight contributes to diabetes and heart disease. Astoundingly, over half the world's population lives in countries where obesity kills more people than undernutrition and starvation combined. This is frustrating given that obesity is avoidable. But in a cruel twist the cheapest foods (vending machine fair, fast foods) are often the most calorically dense. Retail prices of fruits and vegetables rose by almost 120 percent in a recent 15-year period, six times the rate of soft drinks and three times more than fats and sweets. Those living in poor neighborhoods are hit by unhealthy offerings on every side: "dollar" menus at fast-food joints and corner stores that sell cheap snacks. A far cry from the farmers' markets found in higher-rent neighborhoods, these.
Is there a way out of this mess? Sure, education on healthy eating and initiatives that promote these habits at home, at school and in the community help, but if the only affordable food available is high-fat animal protein or refined grains, such efforts do little good. And so it is that in the U.S., the poorest have the highest rate of obesity. And farm subsidies for corn, soy and other grains have boosted the production of increasingly affordable processed food, to which high fructose corn syrup is added to further decrease its already insignificant nutritional value.
Companies led by Danone and Nestle are getting behind initiatives to reduce fat, added sugar and salt content of foods and while this is certainly a step in the right direction, the obesity epidemic is already so serious that what may be needed is to set limits on the sale, distribution and advertising of unhealthful foods, ala the WHO's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which was implemented in 2005. Or perhaps certain foods, including animal products produced via factory farms, need to be prohibited altogether. Smoking is not illegal. You can light up if you're over 18. But you can't buy heroin, cocaine or crystal meth from a licensed vendor or at your local corner store. These drugs require prescriptions, and in some cases (as with crystal meth, bath salts, and other designer drugs) are absolutely illegal with no therapeutic purpose because they are universally deemed unhealthy. The same could be said for empty calorie foods, recipes for myriad health woes.
If the idea of a ban on soda, chips and pig ears doesn't appeal to you, then change your habits, especially if you have young children or are considering raising kids.
According to the Institute of Medicine, cardiovascular disease risks start early in life. Infants born to obese mothers are at higher risk of obesity. By two years of age, an infant's weight is already highly predictive of obesity risk as an adult. Mothers: breast-feeding decreases obesity risk for your child and helps to control maternal weight. Diet patterns are imprinted in the first 1,000 days of life, beginning at conception, as the fetus is influenced by the foods mom consumes. Healthy or unhealthy habits start at home, influenced by cooking methods, choosing fresh over packaged foods, limiting snacks and sitting down to dinner as a family. Changing established poor habits is a greater challenge than eating good clean food from the get-go, so don't let vices creep in. Focus on whole, unpackaged plant foods for a healthier you, family and society as a whole.