Nov 302012

Barry Popkin, a distinguished professor of nutrition at UNC-Chapel Hill and author of “The World is Fat,” addressed an audience of scientists and students Wednesday at East Carolina Heart Institute about the worldwide pandemic of obesity.

By Michael Abramowitz

Friday, November 30, 2012

People in eastern North Carolina — and nearly everywhere — might only have suspected as much until their observations were confirmed on Wednesday by someone who knows: the world is fat.

The evidence was presented to local scientists, students and the public during a lecture at the East Carolina Heart Institute by Barry Popkin, a UNC-Chapel Hill distinguished professor of nutrition and author of “The World Is Fat: the fads, trends, policies, and products that are fattening the human race.”

Popkin shared the numbers on worldwide obesity at his presentation, sponsored by the departments of nutrition science, biochemistry and molecular biology and the East Carolina Diabetes and Obesity Institute. There are now approximately two billion people across the globe who are overweight or obese, compared with 600-800 million who now are underweight, based on the percentage of body fat (BMI).

“Overweight and obese people now outnumber the undernourished of the world,” Popkin said.

Closer to home, about 65 percent of North Carolina’s adults are overweight, and 28 percent of adults are obese, according to a health profile released in September by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. About a third of children in the state’s eastern region are obese, and as many as 40 percent are in some rural portions. Popkin said those numbers are significant in health terms.

“We can look at a number of diseases related to obesity, such as heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, and 13 of the top 16 types of cancer, of which obesity is the major cause,” Popkin said. “If you think about the fact that our children’s life expectancy will be shorter than ours, the reason is obesity.”

Popkin explained why this preventable disease with such disastrous consequences has become a growing pandemic.

“Biologically, we were created to like sweets and fatty foods, and with a desire to exert ourselves less and less. We developed that genetically to survive for hundreds of thousands of years by storing up fat and calories for the hungry season,” Popkin said. “But in the last 100 years, technology has changed. We have become very sedentary and have switched from water and tea to drinking sweetened beverages, soft drinks and juices. We don’t have any hungry seasons now, but we still love those sweets, salty snacks and fatty foods. We have a mismatch between biology and technology.”

A visible consequence of the development of the global community is the worldwide proliferation of processed foods, he said.

“There isn’t a village in the world where you won’t find sweet, fatty and salty snacks, and not a place where people can’t work less,” Popkin said.

That shift has occurred very rapidly, he said. Countries like China, Mexico, India and others in Africa and South America all have made the shift in diet and movement in the last two decades, and all have become overweight societies.

Recovery from obesity requires a reversal of the process that got us all overweight, Popkin said. We must eliminate from our diets the same foods that made us fat and unhealthy and restore ourselves to the active, physically exerting lifestyles we once practiced, he said.

Popkin said that, ultimately, national regulations and taxation of unhealthy foods and beverages is the only effective course of action, as modeled by the anti-tobacco movement. Popkin said some nations have recently banned sugary beverages and the advertisement of unhealthy foods.

“It can happen in America, and it will happen when we recognize how out of hand the levels of diabetes and other preventable diseases have gotten. It’s making Americans unable to work and giving our children shorter lives. That alone will scare us into action,” he said.

Contact Michael Abramowitz at or 252-329-9571.

via The Daily Reflector.


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