Nutrition paradoxes in coming century
Bloated numbers of obese people, living cheek by jowl with, the gaunt and ill-fed, have tossed up new and complex nutrition paradoxes for the 21st century.
Contracts offered by slim Indonesians, Filipinos, Thais or Vietnamese in flowing ao-dais with corpulent Germans or Americans with “imploding” waist bands reflect these paradoxes.
Now, the just published Sixth World Food survey weighs in with scientific evidence, it says: Only in Asia in the problem (of obesity) still insignificant from a public health point of view”
But elsewhere, nutritionist from Cuba to Tunisia report a new disturbing tend the once few who were fat and overfed, in their crowded cities, in their crowded cities, are today multiplying at unprecedented rates. Ironically, malnutrition persists for many.
“Prevalence of adult obesity is generally highest in Latin America and lowest in Asia.” Notes the new report, published by the Food and Agriculture Organization.
Slim macho Latinos or lithe sexy senoritas seem confined only to the flicks.
Obesity among men in the Caribbean and South America ranged from 6% to 21% Percentages of women “blimps” was almost double the men: 22% to 48%.
“Tubbies” in countries like Brazil or Peru bear a striking resemblance to Europeans or Australians battling “grade I obesity” often higher, in over stretched shirts.
But Asians can ill afford complacency over their slim silhouettes. Sustained economic growth of over 7% by this region over the past years, says the Asian Development Bank has ushered in affluence. It is also altering menus into those overloaded with more animal fat, cholesterol and calories.
Equally significant “more and more, one can observe the co-existence of under and over nutrition among children and adults,” including Asia, the survey cautions.
Comparison of nine Asian, African and Latin American countries documents unacceptable levels of stunting and thinness, among teenagers.
Severest stunting reported by the Survey was in Mindanao of southern Philippines: 65%, higher than Mexico’s 62%. Nepal stood at 47% below Ecuador’s 50% but higher than Cebu of Central Philippines at 43%.
“Female adolescents suffer from more than twice as much stunting as males in India,” the United Nations study notes. “The high prevalence of thinness (low body mass index for age) in India and Nepal stand out in contrast with the other countries.”
Also, women put on fat faster and shed it slower than men. “Women tend to be more affected by obesity than men,” the Survey observes. “And obesity is more prevalent in urban than rural areas.”
Asia, however, is a rapidly urbanizing region. Thirteen of the world’s faster-growing cities, says the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), cluster in this region, namely: Tokyo, Osaka, Beijing, Tianjin, Seoul, Shanghai, Manila, Jakarta, Dhaka, Calcutta, Delhi, Karachi and Bombay.
Within such cities, “beer bellies” and cellulite packers proliferate even as the large numbers of stunted, ill-fed and wasted people dwindle but far too slowly. Often, the malnourished are crammed within slums of the same cities. Others are spread out in economically stagnant rural areas. (Overall, over 512 million people in Asia still lack food that can prevent stunting or wasting).
“The apparent paradox of the co-existence of under nutrition and over-nutrition, as manifested in obesity, is being increasingly recognized,” FAO Regional Representative A.Z.M Obaidullah khan told DEPTH news. But implications for nutrition policy still have to be worked out.
“Recent evidence from China and the urban Congo shows that the prevalence of obesity, among adult men and women. Increases with income,” the Survey notes. But “the proportions of underweight as well as normal weight adults decline.”
In countries with very low levels of per capita income- Chad. Bangladesh, Bhutan, etc. the shift towards over nutrition in the cities in barely evident for the moment.
But this, too, will change.
The Sixth World Food Survey documents “nutritional transition,” Mr. Khan explained. To cope with this transition’s paradoxes will require, in the third millennium, better scientific, insights, political muscle and, above all, a humane vision that goes beyond the statistics.