According to the WHO (2005), approximately 1.6 billion adults worldwide are overweight and at least 400 million adults are obese, with predictions that by 2015, approximately 2.3 billion adults will be overweight and more than 700 million obese.
Obesity is a major risk factor for chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, musculoskeletal disorders and some cancers.
There are more obese people in developing and newly industrialised countries than there are in the industrialised world.
Who or what is to blame for the increasing levels of global obesity? Some believe it is consumers themselves; others accuse the food industry and government.
The UK government argues that people should take greater responsibility for their own health. Government sponsored public health programmes like the current ‘change 4 Life’ campaign, attempt to change the personal consumption preferences of consumers. This implies that excess consumption of ‘wrong’ food and subsequent obesity are products of flawed decision making.
But others believe that the food industry plays a role in rising obesity, particularly through intensive marketing of unhealthy foods, often aimed at children. By mass-producing cheap and low quality raw materials, and processing food to increase shelf life, food companies can afford to reduce their prices to consumers and gain higher profit margins.
Recent studies have pointed towards larger structural inequalities relating particularly to class, calling for an understanding of obesity as not simply an excess intake of fats or sugars but as an economic issue relating to limited resources.