This article first appeared on GurdeepPandher.com
Although there are regions where food scarcity is a seemingly insurmountable problem, causing people to become malnourished and susceptible to diseases, it is doubtless that the growing global prosperity is easing the lives of those who used to be extremely impoverished. However, as famine is being resolved by new agricultural technologies such as genetically modified organisms, irrigation, and mechanized farming, a new issue has begun to surface. Obesity, a disease that used to be suffered by only aristocrats who were able to gorge themselves on rich foods, has now become a pandemic. In fact, the number of people who are suffering from obesity is greater than that of those who are underweight.
This phenomenon is indisputable, with the amount of obese individuals rising from 105 million in 1975 to 640 million is 2014. Although we like to blame the United States for being the main contributor to this trend (one third of its adult population is a victim, after all), the global pattern associated with this illness is often surprising. Lesser developed countries such as Libya and Egypt have obesity rates of 40.1 and 41.6% respectively, signifying monetary wealth is not the only indicator. After all, Japan, which is extremely well developed, has an obesity rate of only 3.4%. Although genetics and environmental conditions may play a role, it is definitely culture that determines the spread of the phenomenon.
Social factors such as the consumption of highly processed, fatty foods and the inactivity resulting from a digitized entertainment industry all contribute to the frightening trends in obesity. In fact, sellers of unhealthy foods typically specifically target children with fun mascots and smiling kids who are blissfully unaware that what they are eating is entirely sugar. Although it is stereotypically Americans who fall prey to these marketing tactics, Canada is not immune. With almost a quarter of its citizens (adults and children) diagnosed with this condition, it is seeking to make drastic changes in order to prevent further developments of this disease.
One example of Canada's commitment is the proposed revision of the Canadian food guide, which currently promotes several misconceptions. It suggests that fruit juice, which is commonly highly processed and sugary with almost none of the nutrients found in real fruit (such as fiber and vitamin A), is equivalent to a serving of fruit. As well, it treats all milk products equally regardless of fat content, which means cream cheese and skim milk are equally healthy in their eyes. Also, they condone oils, but fail to disclose the health benefits from olive and other vegetable oils. Hopefully, these issues will soon be resolved to better educate the country.
However, making a distinguished improvement in Canada and the rest of the world will take time and prolonged effort. From encouraging children to join sports teams and play outside away from screens to educating the general public on the necessity of a healthy diet and regular physical activity, large cultural shifts are needed to make obesity a problem of the past. Otherwise, we may soon see a decrease in lifespan and quality of life due to the burden brought by our advancements.