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Global Obesity Crisis: Urgent Need for Unified Strategy as Over One Billion Affected

According to a recent study by The Lancet, over one billion, or 1 in 8 people worldwide are currently grappling with obesity, which is a significant increase since 1990. Shockingly, the study also revealed that obesity among children and adolescents has quadrupled during this period, emphasizing the immediate need for a unified global strategy to tackle this escalating health crisis. It is high time that we take action and come together to address this critical issue.

The Lancet's data, released in collaboration with the World Health Organisation (WHO), underscores the severity of the issue. In 2022, a staggering 43% of adults were classified as overweight, posing a serious threat to public health. Although the study notes a decrease in undernutrition rates, especially in Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, it remains a persistent challenge in these regions.

Countries with the highest combined rates of underweight and obesity in 2022 were identified as island nations in the Pacific and the Caribbean, along with those in the Middle East and North Africa. The report highlights the intricate relationship between malnutrition in all its forms, including undernutrition and obesity.

Undernutrition alone is responsible for half of the deaths of children under 5, while obesity contributes to non-communicable diseases like cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and certain cancers. Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, stressed the importance of preventing and managing obesity throughout life, advocating for early intervention through diet, physical activity, and adequate care.

According to available estimates, around 16% of adults aged 18 and older globally were labelled as obese in 2022. That's a doubling of worldwide obesity rates from 1990 to 2022. The statistics are staggering, revealing a considerable health challenge.

Similarly, in 2022, a staggering 37 million kids under 5 years old were struggling with extra pounds. And guess what? Overweight, once seen as a problem in richer countries, is now a rising issue in lower and middle-income nations. Africa, for instance, has witnessed a 23% surge in overweight children under 5 since 2000. Here's the kicker: nearly half of the overweight or obese kids under 5 in 2022 were found in Asia.

Moreover, a whopping 390 million youngsters aged 5–19 were dealing with excess weight in 2022. The prevalence of being overweight, including obesity, has shot up from a mere 8% in 1990 to a staggering 20% in 2022. Boys and girls are both in the race, with 19% of girls and 21% of boys battling extra pounds.

The WHO estimates that while in 1990, only 2% of teenagers aged 5–19 were grappling with obesity (31 million of them), in 2022, the number has skyrocketed to 8% (160 million teenagers). The struggle with obesity is real, and it's affecting millions of lives globally.

The WHO Acceleration Plan, adopted by Member States in 2022, offers a roadmap to curb the obesity epidemic by 2030. Currently, 31 governments are leading the charge in implementing the plan, recognising the urgent need for action.

The core interventions outlined in the plan include promoting healthy practices from an early age, regulating harmful food and beverage marketing, implementing school food and nutrition policies, promoting healthy diets through fiscal and pricing policies, implementing nutrition labelling policies, launching public education campaigns, setting physical activity standards in schools, and integrating obesity prevention and management services into primary health care.

Dr. Francesco Branca, Director of WHO’s Nutrition and Food Safety Department, emphasised the challenges in ensuring affordable access to healthy diets for all and creating environments that promote physical activity. Countries are urged to integrate obesity prevention and management into their basic health services to address these challenges effectively.

As the world grapples with the dual burden of undernutrition and obesity, the call for a unified global strategy grows louder. Governments, communities, and the private sector must collaborate, backed by evidence-based policies, to halt and reverse the alarming trends. Only through concerted efforts can the world hope to create a healthier future for generations to come.

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