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Too much food can kill you? Overeating and obesity now a bigger global problem than lack of food

By Nathan Gray+, 03-Jan-2013

Related topics: Carbohydrates and fibers (sugar, starches), Fats & oils, R&D

Chronic diseases linked to obesity and overconsumption of food are now a bigger global healthcare burden than illness and disease caused by malnutrition, according to the most comprehensive disease report ever produced on global health issues.

For the first time ever, diseases associated with obesity are now more of a global health burden than lack of nutrition, says the Global Burden of Disease report – a five year collaborative project involving almost 500 scientists in 50 countries.

“For decision makers, health-sector leaders, researchers, and informed citizens, the GBD approach provides an opportunity to see the big picture, to compare diseases, injuries, and risk factors, and to understand in a given place, time, and age-sex group what are the most important contributors to health loss,” explain the researchers behind the project writing in The Lancet .

The project, led by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, USA, is the largest ever systematic effort to describe the global distribution and causes of major diseases, injuries, and health risk factors; it reveals massive shifts in health trends around the world between 1990 and 2010.

Infectious disease and childhood illnesses related to malnutrition were once the primary causes of death, but now children in many parts of the world (outside of sub-Saharan Africa) are more likely to live into an unhealthy adulthood and suffer from eating too much food rather than too little, says the report.

‘Devastating irony’

The report suggests that recent advances in healthcare present most people in the world with a ‘devastating irony’: avoid premature death but live longer and sicker.

“We’re finding that very few people are walking around with perfect health and that, as people age, they accumulate health conditions,” said Dr Christopher Murray, director of IHME and one of the founders of the project.

“At an individual level, this means we should recalibrate what life will be like for us in our 70s and 80s. It also has profound implications for health systems as they set priorities.”

Report findings

The report – which has its own special edition issue in The Lancet (found here ) – reveals that blood pressure is the biggest global risk factor for disease. This is followed by tobacco, alcohol, and poor diet.

Emerging as a ‘new and neglected priority in global health’ are young adults; with the report finding that young adults, especially men, are dying in far higher numbers than previously appreciated. 

Murray and his international colleagues conclude that while we now have a grip on some common infectious diseases, which has saved millions of children from early deaths, “collectively, however, we are spending more of our lives living in poor health and with disability.”

Source: The Lancet
Published Dec 13, 2012
“Global Burden of Disease Study 2010”
The full report series can be found by clicking this link