We are done eating ourselves, now we’re going to eat the poor

Throughout my 23 years of life, subtract those which I was still too young to remember, I have encountered many people in my life.

Throughout my 5 years in medical school, 2 of which were full-time hospital and community-based placements, I have encountered many people in my life.

Of those people who I have encountered in my life, there were more people who were overweight than underweight.

This observation is backed up by a study published in the Lancet in 2017. Researchers pooled and analysed the world-wide trends of body-mass index, underweight, overweight and obesity of 2416 population-based studies from 1975 to 2016. Included were 128.9 million children, adolescents and adults.

The findings were that, over 40 years, our world has transitioned into having more obese people than those who are underweight. Long gone are the days when the majority of the world’s population are underweight due to lack food and lack of nutrients. It is now the era of over-consumption and indulgence. Yet, despite all the food we have available to us, we are STILL undernourished and unhealthy.

How embarrassing. We as a society, have pigged ourselves into oblivion.

To the point that overweight and obesity are linked to more deaths worldwide than underweight.

What is even more upsetting is that there are parts of the world including sub-Saharan Africa and Asia where underweight is still a problem. But because our obesity epidemic is literally a first-world problem, we have created a first-world demand.

Professor George Davey Smith from the School of Social and Community Medicine at the University of Bristol believes there is a danger of becoming “a fatter, healthier, but more unequal world”.

He explains that our knee-jerk response to tackling this obesity epidemic will be at the expense of the poor. “A focus on obesity at the expense of recognition of the substantial remaining burden of under-nutrition threatens to divert resources away from disorders that affect the poor to those that are more likely to affect the wealthier in low income countries.”

Such is the case of diabetes. Diabetes Type 2 is largely preventable. Its consequences such as diabetic retinopathy and nephropathy have thousands of money and hands dedicated to its work-up, diagnosis, treatment and management.

Is this the case for poorer countries where children require ophthalmologists and nephrologists for something unpreventable? What resources could be offered to these patients, healthcare staff, hospitals, governments and organisations… by other hospitals, governments and organisations if diabetes type 2 wasn’t so prevalent today?

In 2011-2012, $8.6 billion (AUD) was spent in Australia on obesity. In 2008, $147 billion (USD) was spent in the United States on medical care costs of obesity (imagine what the figures will be now). The annual nationwide productive costs of obesity-related absenteeism range between $3.38 billion and $3.38 billion.

We are so privileged to be obese. And to have that amount of money spent on the consequences of our overindulgence is insane.

Imagine, for a second that all of that money was spent on addressing the problem of undernutrition. Or even addressing the root causes of obesity and preventing it from occurring, rather than swiping a medicare card and charging a gap to tell patients that they are at a very high risk of a heart attack in the next 5 years.

Sorry, I’m an idealist… so I’ll try again. Imagine that this obesity crisis wasn’t that much of a crisis. It was halved, quartered or sliced into a tenth. If we took a tenth of what we spent on obesity in Australia from the figure above, we would have $860 million to spend on another sector.

Nutrition! Exercise! Prevention! Childhood healthy habits! Policies! Prevention!

Photo by IƱigo De la Maza on Unsplash

We don’t even have to spend it on those obesity-related prevention factors. We could spend it on homelessness, drug use, mental health, domestic violence, drought-relief, climate change, animal welfare…!

I know that overall, it is quite complex. Easier said than done, ya-da ya-da. This was supposed to be a post about losing weight on a plant-based diet. But when I started researching on the statistics of obesity and came across this point, I couldn’t help but delve further into it.

Before my tangent, we were discussing how we have so much food available to us and although we’re fat, we are still undernourished and unhealthy. The question is why?

Stay tuned for my next post on how switching to a plant-based diet can help you lose weight and nourish you.

Referenced studies:

By Karen (MBBS VI, PT)

Thank you for visiting my blog! I'm a certified personal trainer and medical student with one more year (finally!) of study until I'm a doctor. I believe in a preventative and holistic approach to medicine which means I love sharing my passion for fitness and nutrition with you guys! I hope that we all can strive to be a better version of ourselves everyday.

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