Ever since the original Live Aid, the received wisdom on global nutrition has been that the West steals food from the Rest. But a study published by the Overseas Development institute (ODI) reveals that obesity now affects more people living outside of the West than within it. Now, obesity is now a bigger problem in the developing world than in the Western world. The report also noted that one-third of the world's adults are now overweight or obese.
According to the UK think tank, the number of obese or overweight people in the developing world nearly quadrupled from 250 million to 904 million between 1980 and 2008.
Compare this with 557 million obese people in richer countries, and you'll see this is about more than a greater number of mouths being overfed. While the American Medical Association has now officially labelled obesity a disease, the increase in developing-world obesity, claims the ODI, is down primarily to two basic factors — more food and less exercise, with the dietary changes including a shift from tuber and grain-based meals to more meat, sugar and fats.
The shift away from grains could also, conversely, cause a further future global food crisis. As the world population increases, so too does the need for viable land on which to grow crops. But if that land is being used to harvest livestock, due to the increased consumption of meat, then it will become even harder to feed our expanding population. Feast, then famine, is quite possibly on the horizon.
But instead of playing the Catch-22 globalization blame game — whereby the West sets a bad example and every developing country is then blamed for following our lead — the report suggests that the public policy in individual countries is key to tackling obesity rates.
Some public policies are more equal than others, of course. The report cites South Korea's recent intervention to address the issue of the Asian nation's expanding waistlines, which involved, er, mass-training the country's women to cook more traditional, vegetable-laden meals. The whole "Kinder, Kuche, Kirche" approach isn't a solution we'll be endorsing any time soon, but it's a good idea for developing countries to shun the Great Big Mac and Fries export in favor of their own nation's cuisine.
Global obesity may be on the rise, but for every obese developing world citizen, there's a malnourished one, as highlighted by the stats for the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization. In 2010-2012, the UN counted 870 million chronically undernourished people in the developing world.
Humankind may be getting fatter, but that doesn't mean food poverty isn't still a major issue.