Obesity in the developing world can be seen as a result of a series of changes in diet, physical activity, health and nutrition, collectively known as the 'nutrition transition.' As poor countries become more prosperous, they acquire some of the benefits along with some of the problems of industrialized nations. These include obesity.
Since urban areas are much further along in the transition than rural ones, they experience higher rates of obesity. Cities offer a greater range of food choices, generally at lower prices. Urban work often demands less physical exertion than rural work. And as more and more women work away from home, they may be too busy to shop for, prepare and cook healthy meals at home. The fact that more people are moving to the city compounds the problem. In 1900, just 10 percent of the world population inhabited cities. Today, that figure is nearly 50 percent.
Importing poor eating habits
Some critics blame industrialized countries for producing
leaner cuts of meat for their own citizens but selling the
high-fat remainders elsewhere. Turkey tails and mutton flaps
(cuts of skin, fat and little meat) are sold to the
developing world, for instance, despite the fact that 80
percent of the energy in these items come from fat.
Other dietary changes are taking place regardless of
outside influences. In China, when per capita income grew
fourfold after the economic reforms of the late 1970s, the
consumption of high-fat foods soared. And while incomes
grew, the income needed to purchase a fatty diet decreased.
In 1962, a diet containing 20 percent of total energy from
fat correlated with a per capita GNP of US$1 475. By
1990, a GNP of just $750 correlated with the same diet.
The cost of a poor diet
And the developing world risks suffering the lion's share of the growing disease burden. For instance, the number of people with obesity-related diabetes is expected to double to 300 million between 1998 and 2025 -- with three-quarters of that growth projected in the developing world.
For nations whose economic and social resources are already stretched to the limit, the result could be disastrous.
To read about FAO's viewpoint on obesity, click here.
World Health Organization: Controlling
the global obesity epidemic