Improved human well-being is one of the greatest triumphs of the modern era.The age of plenty has also led to an unexpected global health crisis: two billionpeople are either overweight or obese. Developed countries have been especiallysusceptible to unhealthy weight gain. However, developing countries are now facing a similar crisis. Obesity rates have peaked in high income countries but are accelerating elsewhere. The combined findings of the World Health Organisation and the World Bank showed that in 2016 Asia was home to half the world’s overweight children. One quarter were in Africa. Residents of developing nation cities are increasingly susceptible to obesity. According to India’s National Institute of Nutrition, over a quarter of urban-dwelling men and nearly half of women are overweight.
This crisis will test the political resolve of governments that have historically focused on ending hunger.These governments must understand that the factors making cities convenient and productive also make their residents prone to obesity. Urbanites enjoy a variety of food. Additionally, international fast food chains are flourishing in developing countries. The health risks of such diets arecompounded by the sedentary lifestyles of urban dwellers.
People’s leisure time is also being occupied by television, movies, and video games in the growing number of households. The alarming implication of these trends is that developing countries may become sick before they get rich. That sickness may, in turn, cripple health systems. The yearly health care costs in Southeast Asia of obesity-related complications like diabetes and cardiovascular disease are already as high as US $10 billion.
Such diseases are an added burden on countries already struggling to manage primary health care needs. Policies related to taxation, urban design, education and awareness and the promotion of localised food systems may help control obesity at a lower cost than eventual medical treatment for an increasingly overweight population. Some governments have already experimented with direct interventions to control obesity, such as taxation on unhealthy foods and drinks.The US pioneered the soda tax movement. Thailand, Brunei, and Singapore have adopted similar measures. South Africa is likely to introduce a sugar tax beginning in April 2018. The city of Berkeley in California recognizes that taxes alone are not enough to address obesity. Proceeds from the city’s sugar tax are used to support child nutrition and community health programmes. This underscores the importance of education and awareness.
There is also promise in initiatives. Urban design holds significant power to reshape lifestyle patterns and public health. Improving the attractiveness of public space can draw residents out of their cars and living rooms. A recent studyof urban neighbourhoods in Shanghai and Hangzhou found that middle-income residents living in walkable neighbourhoods enjoy better health than residents who lived in less walkable neighbourhoods in urban China.
Finally, healthier lifestyles begin in grocery store aisles. Governments should encourage tighter connections between agricultural production systems, urban grocers and food vendors. Such initiatives can also help urban residents better understand the mechanics of food sourcing. This raises awareness about the relationship between natural foods and healthy lifestyles. Combining controls on unhealthy foods with policies that incentivize healthy eating and active lifestyles constitute a promising response to rising obesity rates. Improving public health is an important policy developing countries should take from both an economic and social point of view. To quote the recent Global Nutrition Report, reducing obesity will boost global development.
民生改善是现代最伟大的成就之一。这样一个富足的年代也导致了难以预料的全球健康危机：有20亿人要么超重，要么肥胖。发达国家的人则更易长胖，引起健康问题。然而，发展中国家目前正面临着相似的危机。肥胖率在高收入国家已经达到顶峰，但在其他国家也正不断上升。世界卫生组织和世界银行的综合调查结果显示，2016年，亚洲的肥胖儿童占据世界总数的一半，非洲则占据了1/4。发展中国家的城市居民越来越易胖。根据印度国立营养研究所(India’s National Institute of Nutrition)的数据，城镇人口中有超过1/4的男性和将近1/2的女性超重。