Obesity overtakes malnutrition as international health problem

26 March 2010

For the first time in history the number of people worldwide suffering from obesity now exceeds the number suffering from hunger.

This was the focus of a seminar at the University of Reading, UK, earlier this month at which academics discussed the challenges the world faces in improving diets in both developed and developing countries.

Visiting speaker Professor Dyno Keatinge, from the Asian Vegetable Research and Development Centre (AVRDC) in Taiwan and a former member of the University of Reading, said priorities in the production of food needed to change.

“Over the last 40 years we’ve focused on overcoming hunger, but our success in increasing the production of staple crops has come at a great cost — both to agricultural diversity and community health,” he said.

“In many developing countries over 70% of diets now consist of just one staple — and that’s not healthy. The key need is for balanced diets, and that applies to all of us.”

Research into the food chain and its impact on health is a major focus at the University of Reading, requiring the co-ordination of expertise across agriculture, animal and plant sciences, economics, food policy, bioscience, food science and nutrition and consumer choice.

Examples of current research at Reading include investigations into plants that can help protect against cancers, and the importance of nutrition and food across the age span — from looking at ways to encourage young children to eat fruit and vegetables to enhancing the taste of foods for the elderly to help prevent malnutrition.

Vegetable consumption in developing and developed countries is often well below recommended minimum standards, and, increasingly, people in the developing world have diets high in carbohydrates and fats.

Professor Richard Ellis, Dean of the Faculty of Life Sciences, said that association with the international agricultural research centres, such as AVRDC, was important in finding workable solutions to the problems.

“The two institutions are working hard to carry out the underpinning research to understand both nutritional science and consumer behaviour sufficiently to improve people’s health and well-being,” he said.

“It is important to remember that obesity is not just limited to developed countries. Neither is malnutrition limited just to the developing world. Both issues are major problems for developed and developing countries alike.”

If you are interested in this topic, The Birchley Hall Press (publisher of MTB Europe) also publishes a website promoting environmental protection, and food and income diversity for developing countries: www.treesforlife.info


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