Global Threats,  Health


By The Editors

What is “globesity”?  It’s the escalating global epidemic of overweight and obesity – one additional aspect of the great acceleration.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), obesity is “a complex condition, one with serious social and psychological dimensions, that affects virtually all age and socioeconomic groups and threatens to overwhelm both developed and developing countries.”

The WHO adds that “Contrary to conventional wisdom, the obesity epidemic is not restricted to industrialized societies; in developing countries, it is estimated that over 115 million people suffer from obesity-related problems.”

Overweight and obesity are major risk factors for a number of chronic diseases, including diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cancer.  Globally, at least 2.8 million people die each year as a result of being overweight or obese.

The International Obesity Taskforce has developed two interactive maps that show the worldwide prevalence of obesity, one map for obesity prevalence in adults and the other for obesity prevalence in children.   You can find these maps here.

Controlling globesity requires a variety of approaches – one of these approaches should be to understand the association between obesity and exposure to environmental pollutants. Another necessary approach is education about food.

In the video below, TED Prize winner Jamie Oliver talks about the importance of educating about food. He concludes his talk with these words: “My wish is for you to help a strong, sustainable movement to educate every child about food, to inspire families to cook again, and to empower people everywhere to fight obesity”

We should all join Jamie Oliver’s revolution.


  • Kyle Brandenberger

    A lot of research has come out in the last year linking obesity to disturbances in the GI microbiota. Interestingly, Everard et al. 2013 showed that crosstalk between Akkermansia muciniphila impacted the thickness of the intestinal mucus lining. This alteration allowed for greater absorption of macronutrients. I have often wondered whether a portion of the obesity epidemic could be accounted for by excess absorptive capacity, and this may be one possible link. There may also be some sort of upregulation of intestinal transporters. This would be necessary to explain to how obese people are able to absorb the large excess quantities of food consumed, which would be needed to maintain their large body mass. I think Everard et al 2013 highlights a possible unintended consequence of overusing antibiotics and the impact on GI microbiota.

  • nicole_v23

    I have actually never thought of obesity being a problem in underdeveloped or developing countries. The main place I hear about obesity being an increasing problem is in the United States. I don’t really understand how there would be a connection between environmental pollutants and obesity though. As mentioned in the blog there are many psychological and social dimensions associated with obesity. It’s a stigma An individual ultimately has control over what they consume and the physical activities they participate in.

  • Robbie A

    When we think in terms of obesity, we think in terms of diet and lack of exercise (we also know that genes play a role). However, pollution is an additional factor involved in the development of obesity. When mentioning potential approaches for controlling obesity, the post states that “one of these approaches should be to understand the association between obesity and exposure to environmental pollutants”. Some studies have shown that pollution is a factor in the development of obesity. For example, a study from scientists at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health shows that children of women exposed to high concentrations of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PHAs) are more likely to be obese by the age of seven than the children of the women with less exposure to PAHs. And this is just an example.

    • cns2392

      Yes, PAHs have been studied and have shown a correlation between exposure and childhood obesity. However, a study by Joost Van Rooij, et al. (Smoking and dietary intake of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons as sources of interindividual variability in the baseline excretion of 1-hydroxypyrene in urine, 1994) found that: “The consumption of PAH-containing food products and active smoking account for 99% of total pyrene intake.” And, “Passive smoking and the inhalation of ambient air are relatively inimportant for total pyrene intake (both account for less than 1%).” Yes, this is an example of only one PAH, but just one provides compelling statistics. Additionally, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) says most actual exposure among the United States population occurs from active inhalation of PAHs in tobacco smoke, wood smoke, and contaminated air, and from contaminated food consumption. Both sources tell us that most PAH exposure can be avoided, because actions like smoking tobacco and consuming PAH-containing foods are completely voluntary, therefore, childhood obesity (and globesity as a whole) could also be avoided through these means.

    • awilliams199

      I agree that fast food, lack of exercise, genetic factors and other poor diet choices are not the only contributing factors to obesity and that other environmental factors can be possibles contributors; however is it possible that poor diet choices and lack of exercise have a greater influence on obesity? Although obesity is present in developing countries the largest number of obese individuals are located in developed countries. Because developed countries have easy access to cheap fast foods, restaurants and many labor saving devices obesity can be common. In contrast obesity is less common in developing countries because many individuals lack resources to purchase fast foods, dine at restaurants or use labor saving devices. An interesting article that explains why obesity is so common in developed countries can be found on this link

  • cns2392

    I do not think fast food chain restaurants are the only ones to blame. Yes, fast food is an American staple and does exist on nearly every street corner, but even in our “health conscience” society, restaurants (fast food or not) have conformed to providing healthier options, smaller portions, nutritional facts, etc. I put “health conscience” in quotes because verbally, it is a hot topic in society, but that’s typically where it stops… We discuss the issue and never truly develop a solution or carry out a plan. Globesity is a choice. Many will blame genetics or slow metabolism, but having prior knowledge of a possible predisposition should cause an individual to counteract through lifestyle changes. It is your lifestyle habits that determine obesity: proper diet and exercise, or even more simply put, intake and outtake. However, unlike many aspects of the great acceleration, globesity can not only be stopped, but also reversed. It is just a matter of doing more than talking about it.

  • Nadouna

    I agree with Alejandra, I believe people continue eating unhealthy when they know it keeps them accumulating body fat because fast food is very helpful to people who are busy and had a long day. Some fast foods are very cheap and anyone can go to Mcdonalds and get something that can satisfy their cravings/hunger for a dollar or two. Once people get in a routine of relying on fast foods and unhealthy foods, it is very hard for them to stop. These unhealthy foods make them gain a lot of weight and start becoming lazy to start working out where it’s harder for them to lose weight.

  • Alejaaa21

    I agree with Haley, due to the easy access fast food provides most people find it cheap and reliable to just go through the drive through than to cook something at home. In America you can find a fast food chain restaurant on almost every street corner, but I believe that one as the consumer should be held responsible for the on going increase of what obesity has become. Grown adults know right from wrong and they realize exactly what they are intaking, but a child doesn’t, that is when parents should step in and help. I’ve heard the saying “you are what you eat,” but my question is what leads these people/children to continue eating the way in which they do that only allows them to keep accumulating body fat.

  • Nadouna

    The world health problem more and more of an epidemic with people. Some people like fast food and always eat it. Fast foods use a high sugar and high fat diet. Most of the fast foods are fried foods; it has high calories. If we are always eating it, that will affect our health and our nutritional balance. Maybe we will get sick or some people will be obese.Eating too much over a long period of time can lead to health problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and obesity. Fast food also lack many of the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals our bodies need. It’s helpful to remember that with fast food, moderation is important.Fast foods are spreading across the globe. Fast food is cheap, convenient, filling, and many people say it tastes good.

    • chow26

      We should figure out how to reduce the overpricing of healthy food. It’s contradicting to promote healthy eating yet you can barely afford it. When you hungry, you’re hungry, and any food will suffice, with high or low nutritional value. However, everything has to be in moderation.

  • cdao22

    Is it just calories and fast food that lead to obesity? It would be interesting to know why obesity is increasing in developing countries.

    • Robbie A

      In an article entitled “Childhood obesity in developing countries: epidemiology, determinants, and prevention”, Nidhi Gupta and collaborators report that “Important determinants of childhood obesity include high socioeconomic status, residence in metropolitan cities, female gender, unawareness and false beliefs about nutrition, marketing by transnational food companies, increasing academic stress, and poor facilities for physical activity. ” (Endocr Rev. 2012 Feb;33(1):48-70).

      • ErinnGoBragh

        There is a lot of new research that shows that diet and lack of exercise, though critical, cannot alone explain the rapid growth of this epidemic. For example, a recent study from Barcelona revealed that pregnant women exposed to pesticides were twice as likely to give birth to obese children. Levels of hexachlorobenzene, a pesticide, were measured in the umbilical cords of unborn children in Menorca. Those with the highest levels were twice as likely to be obese when they reached the age of six. They are not sure how HCB causes obesity, but scientists speculate that it switches genes on and off in the womb, causing stem cells to become fat cells. The children then grow up with a much greater disposition to store and accumulate fat. We need to reduce exposure to HCB and other pollutants so that changing our diet and exercise habits will be more effective in reducing global obesity.

  • Haley M

    I agree that obesity continues to be a problem that could and should be addressed. The access to fast food restaurants has hindered our society and turned what use to be an occasional outing for the family into the traditional way of eating dinner. Instead of people pointing their finger and blaming restaurants, they must look within and realize the actual harm they are doing to themselves.

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