The World Health Organization (WHO) has encouraged countries to create a better food environment to enable people have access to healthy diets towards fighting overweight and obesity.
Creating a better food environment includes restricting the marketing of food and drinks high in fats, sugar, and salt, taxing sugary drinks for children and providing better access to affordable, healthy foods for all citizens.
The WHO made the call on Friday, March 4, 2022, as the world joined forces to observe the 2022 World Obesity Day on the theme: “Accelerating Action to Stop Obesity.”
It defines overweight and obesity as abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that might impair health and body mass index (BMI), as a simple index of weight-for-height that is commonly used to classify overweight and obesity in adults.
BMI, in other words, is a person’s weight in kilograms divided by the square of his height in meters (kg/m2).
Even though obesity is preventable, the WHO reported that more than one billion people worldwide were obese comprising 650 million adults, 340 million adolescents, and 39 million children.
The number, it said, is still increasing and estimated that by 2025, approximately 167 million people – adults and children, would become less healthy because they are overweight or obese.
Obesity, as a disease impacting most body systems, affects the heart, liver, kidneys, joints, and reproductive system, WHO said.
It also leads to a range of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and stroke, various forms of cancer, as well as mental health issues and people with obesity are also three times more likely to be hospitalised for Covid-19.
The key to preventing obesity, WHO said, was to act early, ideally even before a baby was conceived.
Moreover, good nutrition in pregnancy, followed by exclusive breastfeeding until the age of six months and continued breastfeeding until two years and beyond, is best for all infants and young children.
To reduce the risks of being obese, the WHO advised everyone to increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables, as well as legumes, whole grains, and nuts, and engage in regular physical activity (60 minutes a day for children and 150 minutes spread through the week for adults).
The food production industry was also advised to reduce the fat, sugar, and salt content of processed foods; and ensure they produce affordable but healthy and nutritious choices for all consumers.
It also charged them to restrict marketing of foods high in sugars, salt, and fats, especially those foods aimed at children and teenagers; ensure the availability of healthy food choices, and supporting regular physical activity practice in the workplace.
WHO, in a statement issued over the observation of the 2022 World Obesity Day, said it is responding to the global obesity crisis on many fronts.
This includes monitoring global trends and prevalence, the development of a broad range of guidance addressing the prevention and treatment of overweight and obesity, and providing implementation support and guidance for countries.
Following a request from Member States, the WHO secretariat is also developing an acceleration action plan, which would be discussed at the 76 World Health Assembly to be held in May, 2022, with the aim of stopping obesity, tackling the epidemic in high burden countries and catalysing a global action.
The WHO also admonished countries’ leaderships to ensure that cities and towns made space for safe walking, cycling, and recreation, and equipped schools to help households to teach children healthy habits from early on.
The Mayo Clinic, an American academic medical center focused on integrated health care, education, and research, explained that an adult with a BMI below 18.5 is considered ‘underweight’, one with a BMI of between 18.5 – 24.9 is considered ‘normal’, while one between 25.0 – 29.9 was considered overweight and 3-.0 and higher, obese.
It mentioned family inheritance and influences, lifestyle choices such as eating unhealthy diet, liquid calories and inactivity (leading sedentary lifestyles), diseases and medications, age, pregnancy, quitting smoking, lack of sleep, and microbiome as some of the risk factors of obesity.
The Mayo Clinic noted that obesity could give complications such as heart disease and strokes, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers (uterus, cervix, ovary, breast, gallbladder, liver, pancreas etc), digestive problems, sleep apnea, osteoarthritis, and severe Covid-19 symptoms.