Obesity is growing on a global scale quicker in children than adults, and an expert demands public awareness to avoid another unhealthy generation. New expert commentary on a recent study makes a call to action for obesity research and treatment approaches, which should be a priority over the next few decades. After reviewing the recent findings published in The Lancet journal on a global analysis on the burden and prevalence of overweight and obese children and adults, University of Oxford epidemiologist Klim McPherson felt the need to elaborate.
"An appropriate rebalancing of the primal needs of humans with food availability is essential," McPherson wrote in The Lancet commentary following last week's study. But to do that, he suggested, "would entail curtailing many aspects of production and marketing for food industries."
McPherson believes that not enough is being done to combat obesity in both children and adults. Meanwhile, public health efforts are making leaps and bound in tobacco control and cardiovascular-healthy diets. He commends the strides various preventable diseases have made over the years but continues to beg the question throughout his commentary of why there still is not a lot of progress made in the fight against the obesity epidemic. Although he does believe that the rising numbers of global obesity can be harnessed by policy and aggressive awareness campaigns.
The study systematically reviewed thousands of surveys, reports, and published studies that included data on a person’s age, gender, height, and weight along with what country they were from and the year it was recorded in order to compile enough information to make a comprehensive evaluation on the global obesity climate.
More than one-third of adults in the United States alone are obese and with an estimated medical cost of $147 billion, it isn’t just a health crisis. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the last 30 years, childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents. Obese youth are more likely to become obese adults and increase risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, various types of cancer, and osteoarthritis, which are some of the leading causes of death.
Policy, says McPherson, needs to change if they’re going to solve the problem of rising obesity. As research has found, obese individuals who lose weight more often than not will regain the lost weight and remain stuck in a vicious cycle of yo-yoing weight gain. It is no surprise that obesity has been called a “major global health challenge” by the recent global health study.
"It couldn't be easier to see," Traci Mann, a psychologist at the University of Minnesota, who has spent 20 years running an eating lab told CBC News Health. "Long-term weight loss happens to only the smallest minority of people."
Our biological make up makes short-term weight loss fairly easy, but weight dubiously slides back onto our hips, thighs, backs, and stomach. It has been tested time and time again, and in each randomized control trial, people who had undergone intense diet and exercise will lose weight and without avail put the weight back on. When people do lose weight, their audience of friends, family, and fellow weight-loss hopefuls believe that true loss is attainable when in fact, it’s usually only momentary success.
"Those kinds of stories really keep the myth alive," Tim Caulfield, a health law and policy professor at the University of Alberta, whose research focuses on health misconceptions, told CBC News Health. "You have this confirmation bias going on where people point to these very specific examples as if it's proof. But in fact those are really exceptions."
Researchers like Caufield and McPherson want the truth to come to light — that it is an uphill and discouraging battle to lose weight for the already obese, which is why childhood obesity is so important to focus on in order to avoid another generation of unhealthy adults.
"You have to be careful about the stigmatizing nature of that kind of image," Caulfield said. "That's one of the reasons why this myth of weight loss lives on."
Worldwide, the study reveals that the combined prevalence of overweight and obesity rose by 27.5 percent and an addition 47.1 percent for children between 1980 and 2013. Health experts are divided on the exact cause of excessive weight gain and why it’s seemingly irreversible once it has accumulated. There is, however, inarguably a combination of both biological and social forces at play.
"The fundamental reason," Caulfield said, "is that we are very efficient biological machines. We evolved not to lose weight. We evolved to keep on as much weight as we possibly can."
McPherson K. Reducing the global prevalence of overweight and obesity. The Lancet. 2014.
NG M, Fleming T, Robinson M, et al. Global, regional, and national prevalence of overweight and obesity in children and adults during 1980—2013: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013. The Lancet. 2014.