Global Health Ideas

Finding global health solutions through innovation and technology

Scientific American on Food, Fat and Famine

sciamcover.gifAn account manager from Scientific American’s PR firm let me know about their latest issue on Obesity and Malnutrition (many thanks to Scott for the email) which you should check out. This special issue focuses on “Food, Fat and Famine” and has some of the world’s leading experts writing for the issue (Barry Popkin, world food prize laureate Per Pinstrup-Andersen, and others) along with a bonus article by Jeffery Sachs. I got a chance to quickly skim the introduction to the issue and this line struck me (paraphrased from memory): “For the first time in the world’s history the number of obese people has surpassed the undernourished” (roughly 1.3 billion vs 1 billion).

The shift to sedentary lifestyles (use of mopeds vs bikes) and drive to “Westernization” (fast food, sweetners, mass produced food, urbanization) is dramatically altering the landscape and will lead to a substantial rise in chronic diseases. As Barry Popkin says in his excellent article, The World is Fat, these changes have “paved the way for a public health catastrophe”. A couple of facts from Popkin’s article about the radical change that has taken place in Mexico in just 20 yeras:

-1989: Less than 10% of Mexicans were considered overweight
-2006: Over 66% of Mexican men and women are overweight or obese
-1990: Diabetes was almost non-existent in Mexico, not so today

The above rapid change maybe compounded in developing regions where evolution may have altered genetic makeup such that people in those regions have a greater ability to store fat due to the need to conserve in times of famine. Add in the lack of access to drugs, obesity leads to greater rates of diabetes and hypertension and in China for example, only 1/3 of hypertension patients receive medications. This issue is fascinating and I highly recommend perusing it. For a blog that posts on obesity in general as well as other issues, I would recommend the Med Journal Watch. Unfortunately the online links below only have free abstracts and not full articles, but you will get a decent sense of the article content:

The Global Paradox of Obesity and Malnutrition
A Question of Sustenance, abstract
Globalization ushered in a world in which more than a billion are overfed. Yet 800 million or so still suffer from hunger’s persistent scourge

The World Is Fat, abstract
How can the poorest countries fight obesity?

Still Hungry, abstract
One eighth of the world does not have enough to eat

Sowing a Gene Revolution, abstract
A new green revolution based on genetically modified crops could help reduce poverty and hunger, but only if formidable institutional challenges are met

Is Your Food Contaminated?, abstract
New approaches to protect the food supply

Sustainable Developments: Breaking the Poverty Trap by Jeffrey D. Sachs, abstract
Targeted investments can trump a region’s geographic disadvantages


Written by Aman

August 28, 2007 at 1:05 am

5 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. […] Scientific American on Food, Fat and Famine, link […]

  2. […] authored by one of world’s leading experts in nutrition (Barry Popkin). We covered some of this before in a recent issue of Scientific American and here is the link for the new paper. Kudos to Health […]

  3. I believe that malnutrition and overnutrition ARE health problems. Another impact that obesity may have on society is the absolute predjudice that people so casually express about overweight people…even in the workplace! How hurtful that is!


    January 6, 2008 at 8:27 pm

  4. Great post!

    The Global Paradox…not a paradox at all! People overeat because their body is STILL looking for what it needs…NUTRIENTS! As you are aware, they are missing in the standard American diet. We processed the heck outta of, so it’s no longer in the food. And overeating results.

    Just go to one of those buffets and watch what people do…and eat! Sometimes I wonder where they put it all.

    But empty food may food your belly for a little while…just like forgetting to put oil in your engine. Sooner or later, something bad happens.

    When you eat nutrient DENSE foods, you body quickly finds what it needs, then signals you to STOP! It amazes me that when I eat RIGHT, how little other things I tend to want…and how easily I fill up.

    I also find it interesting that Americanization of the Mexican diet has caused them to blow up with obesity and diabetes.

    Thanks again for the highly informative post. Now to see IF I can get that issue.

    Dr. Jack


    December 11, 2007 at 6:42 pm

  5. […] did a previous post on obesity in developing countries that you can see for more sources along with the WHO page on this issue… For additional fast […]

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: