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No Country Successfully Reducing Obesity



Perhaps this headline is obvious to any of us who are out and about in today's world - the one population health index that we can all observe is the apparently ever growing epidemic of people who are a little heavier than they might be - and in some cases very much heavier.

This is the undeniable background to the EATforum taking place in Stockholm this week - and some data on the worldwide obesity epidemic will be published later in the week by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in the Lancet . But if the grim reality is that, so far, there is a spectacular lack of success in controlling obesity, then what are the actions that the world needs to take? Let me share some insights from some of the EATforum speakers.
Johan Rockström from the Stockholm Resilience Centre assured us that the world can, in principle, feed a population of 9 billion people successfully, as it will need to do in the fairly near future, probably by around 2050. But this will not be a "business as usual" scenario - it will require major shifts in patterns of food production and consumption to be achieved effectively.
Norway's former Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre sees one major obstacle as breaking down the silos within which researchers, policy makers and businesses tend to operate. It's too easy to pin attention on one topic - say diabetes for example - without taking an holistic view of the global landscape. This is where the EATforum, with Gunhild Stordalen's inspirational leadership, is specially positioned to make an impact. Which human being in the world can say that they have no interest or stake in food? This is a truly silo-busting approach.

Gunhild, as a medical doctor, told us that prevention is better than cure - whether the patient is the individual, or the human race. She has also blogged about these issues here.

The Lancet's editor Richard Horton reaffirmed his visions for "planetary health". Unprecedented climate change will occur by 2050 if humankind does not make major and immediate changes to consumption patterns. This in turn will require collaboration across social, political and environmental sectors - more silo-busting perhaps. The species Homo sapiens has to find new ways of collaborating to save itself and our fragile planet.

Former US President Bill Clinton came to give us his take on the major issues facing the planet, naturally in his own inimitable style. His Clinton Foundation is globally active in many initiatives, not least in supporting small-scale African farmers in Malawi and Tanzania to become dramatically more productive in their enterprises. At the same time as billions of people struggle for daily food, he pointed out that the USA blows a trillion dollars annually on its inefficient health care system - a large chunk of which is tied up with treatment for obesity-induced diabetes.

And he showed how personal experience can be a powerful driver of change - since his heart bypass surgery some ten years ago, he has dramatically changed his own eating habits in a healthy direction. We mustn't wait for the human race, nor the planet, to become critical before changes are made on a global scale.


(originally published as a Huff Post UK Blog 27/05/2014)







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