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Unpacking the complex drivers of “globesity”

4 min read
AUTHOR: Ross Carver-Carter
A planet made out of coloured paper surrounded by multiple different coloured hands swarming around

Worldwide obesity has nearly tripled since 1975, with most of the global population now living in countries where overweight and obesity kills more people than underweight. So what happened over the last few decades? Are we to believe that people simply suffered a collective lapse in willpower?

Of course not.

For a start, the food environments we operate within have changed dramatically in that time, becoming increasingly conducive to weight gain (obesogenic). Ultra-processed foods high in salt, sugar and fat have come to predominate our diets, making up more than 60% of caloric intake in the U.S. and 56% in the UK. These foods are often cheaper than whole foods, explaining why obesity overwhelmingly impacts those in lower-income areas.

And that’s just one piece of a complex and sprawling puzzle.

The sheer extent of factors influencing obesity is powerfully demonstrated by the Obesity System Map. Created by the Government Office for Science, the map charts the dizzying amount of factors influencing a persons obesity risk, from infrastructure and biology to media and social connectedness.

Drawing on the expertise of health professionals, researchers and advocates, the following podcast episodes seek to unpack the causes of the global obesity epidemic whilst working towards evidence-based solutions. To this end, we hear about the countries successfully tackling obesity and how they offer important lessons to those falling short.

Why the UK is heading towards having Europe’s highest obesity rate

A report by the World Health Organization warns that obesity has already reached “epidemic proportions” in Europe, causing 200,000 cancer cases and 1.2 million deaths a year. The UK is currently 4th in its European rankings and is forecast to top the charts by 2032 at it’s current rate.

How is this possible in a country where at least a dozen policies or white papers have been announced on the topic since 1997? And given these worrying statistics, why has the Government decided to delay its proposed ban on the promotion of foods high in fat, salt and sugar not once, but twice?

Those are just some of the key questions addressed in this episode of the Food Matters Live podcast, featuring Paul Gately, Professor of Exercise and Obesity at Leeds Beckett University and Michele Cecchini, a leader in Public Health at the the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Listen to find out how a whole-systems approach can help reverse current trends and what the UK can learn from countries like France and Canada, both of which have successfully stalled obesity rates.

How strong is the link between processed food and obesity?

Despite various interventions by governments around the world, so-called “globesity” continues to rise. It is clear that our changing diet plays a role, and many experts have singled out highly processed and refined foods as a major problem, particularly in the West.

So, what is it about these particular types of food that contribute to obesity? How did they come to dominate our diets? And how can we begin to minimise our reliance upon these ubiquitous foods?

Joining us to answer these questions is Professor David Raubenheimer, Leonard Ullmann Chair in Nutritional Ecology at the University of Sydney. We also welcome Dr. Amanda Grech to the studio, a Research Fellow at the Charles Perkins Centre, University of Sydney.

Tune in to learn what nutritional epidemiology has revealed about processed foods and find out why David remains optimistic about the future of the food industry.

The glimmer of hope in an otherwise damning WHO obesity report

The World Health Organization’s 2022 European Regional Obesity Report makes for grim reading. It says nearly two-thirds of European adults are obese, a third of children are overweight or obese, and crucially, the numbers are rising.

But there is one line within the report that offers a glimmer of hope. It says: “Europe can reverse its obesity epidemic.”

In this episode of the Food Matters Live Podcast, we interview one of the authors of the report, Kremlin Wickramasinghe, Acting Head of the WHO European Office for the Prevention and Control of Non-communicable Diseases.

Why are all of Europe’s nations failing to get a grip on the obesity crisis? Whose responsibility is it to reverse the current trend? And if Europe can reverse its obesity epidemic, how exactly does it go about doing it? Tune in to hear Mr. Wickramasinghe offer his expert opinion on these questions and many more.

Connect with nutrition professionals and ideate solutions at Inspiring Nutrition

Poor diet is behind an estimated 11 million premature deaths each year. Join experts from across the nutrition and health communities in finding evidence-based solutions at Inspiring Nutrition. Featuring expert panel discussions, roundtable talks and 1-2-1 networking sessions, Inspiring Nutrition offers you the chance to connect, collaborate and innovate with those shaping the future of nutrition. Taking place in both London and Manchester this November, make sure to secure your place soon and join the discussion.