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Feasting in Famine: The Paradox of Obesity Amidst Food Shortages

Global human population has witnessed tremendous increase within the last 150 years, in the 20th century alone the world’s population grew by approximately 400%(1). An increase in population has also necessitated an increase in the amount of resources needed to cater for the population. Food, a basic human need have not been able to meet up to its demand and it’s production is not evenly distributed worldwide. While some regions of the world experience great difficulty attaining food due to drought, poor agricultural yield and other factors, other regions of the world not only have enough food, but an excess that goes to waste indiscriminately. Paradoxically while some people suffer from famine, others are struggling with obesity.

The ever growing population, climate change and economic disparities has exacerbated global food crisis. The rate of food production is limping behind the rate of population increase. The uneven distribution and wastage of food in places where there is excess has also contributed to the problem. Economic disparities has greatly affected the rate of food production and its quality in various regions of the world. Economically disadvantaged regions spend so much on production but the produce are of low quality, little and insufficient for the teeming population. Climate change has also played a significant role in the global food crisis; it is responsible for flooding, drought, poor harvest, extreme weather events, increase in poverty and famine. In essence, it has blown the situation out of proportion. Sadly, famine do not just affect people alone, it is accompanied by extreme poverty, sickness and diseases and a significant reduction in the lifespan of the affected population. The prevalence of hunger, starvation and malnutrition has also hampered development in these societies; The health of newborns, children, women and the aged are greatly affected. Starvation poorly influences the performance of kids in school. Famine has also caused health emergencies in some places as malnutrition has made the population susceptible to various kinds of diseases. The global food crisis continues to pose a serious problem while food wastage increases emissions, worsening the climate crisis.

The Rise of Obesity

While the world grapples with tackling the global food crisis and the climate crisis, our attention is drawn to a trending increase in obesity globally. Population around the world, especially those in economically advantaged regions are becoming grossly chubby and overweight. According to the WHO(2), worldwide obesity has tripled since 1975, with 13% of world’s adult population obese, 39% overweight and one-in-five children and adolescents overweight globally. The trending increase in obesity is triggered by various factors such as access to cheap, unhealthy food, sedentary lifestyle and cultural shifts.

As societies becomes more advanced, our traditional dietary patterns which are based on whole foods change. They are replaced by diets rich in processed foods, added sugars and unhealthy fats. The widespread presence of fast foods also leads to high calorie intake and poorer nutrition. Aggressive marketing and advertising of unhealthy foods and beverages also influences eating habits among young children and adolescents, especially in developed regions such as Europe and North America. The consumption of larger portion sizes at home and in restaurants has resulted to overeating and weight gain over time.

Modernization has led to a more sedentary lifestyle. Modern technology such as computers, smartphones and streaming services promotes prolonged sitting and reduced physical activities. The reduction in physical activities increases the risk of obesity.

Increased stress levels and changes in lifestyle patterns due to cultural shifts has also led to emotional eating, contributing to weight gain. Social norms can influence perceptions of body image and body weight. In some African culture, being overweight is viewed as a sign of prosperity and wealth. In these settings, obese children and adolescents are perceived as well fed. This has killed the morale and lessened the motivation to maintain a healthy weight, leading to less concerns about obesity.

Health and Social Implications

Obesity is associated with a wide range of health risks and complications which can significantly impact an individual’s wellbeing and quality of life. But it seems that a good portion of the world’s population are either ignorant or do not really seem to care much about the health risks and complications of obesity, how else do we explain the persistent increase in the number of obese people worldwide. According to Aljazeera(3), we have more people dying from obesity-related diseases than from famine.

Obesity increases the risk of developing various cardiovascular conditions, such as hypertension (high blood pressure), atherosclerosis (hardening and narrowing of the arteries), heart disease, and stroke. It is also a significant risk factor for the development of type 2 diabetes. The additional weight on the joints, knees and hips can lead to osteoarthritis and joint pain in obese people. Obesity can also affect fertility in both men and women. It can increase the risk of complications during pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum.

Obesity can also lead to psychological and emotional challenges including depression, low self-esteem and anxiety due to societal stigma and body image issues. Obesity is linked to a shorter life expectancy and an increased risk of premature death.

Obesity health-related issues such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, joint problems, fertility problems, psychological and emotional challenges and a reduced lifespan are leading causes of death in many countries, especially in the developed world. These chronic diseases linked to lifestyle have become major public health challenges in modern societies.

The Irony of Food Wastage and Obesity

Everyday, millions of people(5) go to bed hungry, while enormous amounts of food are discarded from supermarkets, households, restaurants and farms across the globe. Paradoxically, while food wastage persists, the global obesity epidemic continues to expand.

Socioeconomic factors and food distribution systems have contributed to the paradox of food wastage and obesity. Overproduction, stringent expiration dates and consumer habits in advanced economies all play a crucial role. The perplexing irony is that while supermarkets, farms, households and consumers toss out items that are still perfectly edible leading to waste; marketing, clever advertising, portion sizes and the allure of convenience foods all influences the choice of consumers to consume more. The busy lifestyle of the modern world leads to grabbing quick processed meals which is a factor in the global pandemic of obesity. It is a vicious cycle where communities, societies and regions around the world who are economically disadvantaged continue to face starvation and famine on a daily basis, while excessive consumption patterns, food wastage and obesity reigns supreme at the other end.

Read Also: Inside Nigerian Food Shops On Social Media

Addressing the Paradox

Food wastage is an alarming issue that needs urgent attention. The environmental and economic consequences are appalling. Wasted food contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions and they puts pressure on land and water resources. They also cost billions of dollars annually. To put it in perspective, it is like flushing these resources and monies used for the food production down the drain.

To tackle this paradox, a multi-pronged approach is needed. All hands must be on deck.
The implementation of government policies can reduce food waste at all levels of the food supply chain whilst promoting access to affordable, nutritious food, particularly in underserved communities. Tackling poverty and economic disparities would also help improve access to nutritious food. The implementation of sustainable agricultural practices would improve food distribution in food-scarce regions. This would help alleviate food shortages, starvation and malnutrition.

The government can also promote nutritional education and raise awareness about healthy food choices in food-abundant societies. For example, in these regions, fast food, high in calories and low in nutrients, is often more accessible and affordable than fresh produce. Raising awareness about healthy foods would help combat obesity.

Individuals can play their part by being mindful of food purchases and consumption. They can also promote active lifestyles by engaging in physical activities and exercises which can help combat obesity and improve overall health.

In conclusion, the irony of food wastage, obesity and starvation is a stark reminder of the inequalities in our food systems. While the world grapples with both hunger and overnutrition , it is a clear indication that a comprehensive and sustainable solution is needed. Promoting cultural practices that encourage healthy diets and active lifestyles can be a crucial step in combating obesity on a global scale. By addressing food wastage, we can work towards a future where everyone has access to nutritious food, and none goes to waste.

Joshua Imoikor writes from Abuja, Nigeria.

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