The Socioeconomics of Western Diets and Obesity
The U.S. is no longer alone in being concerned over the rising obesity rates. In 2013, Mexico's obesity rate surpassed the United States. Between 2013 and 2014, concern over obesity in India rose to the extent that researchers carried out a study of the factors increasing obesity. The results, published in BMC Obesity1, give a much clearer understanding of the primary factors contributing to obesity in the world.
The study surveyed a random sample of adults (between the ages of 20 and 80) from around the country. The adults were given questionnaires to fill out regarding their physical activity, education, socioeconomic position, diet, rurality, and other factors. All participants had their BMI measured.
In India, the prevalence of underweight is high: 22.7% of the population surveyed. However, obesity and overweight were also high: close to 35% of the population were overweight or obese (Class-I and Class-II).
The following factors were seen to contribute to higher obesity rates: higher intake of Omega-6 PUFAs, high wealth index and higher caste, low physical activity, low rurality index (people who lived in the city), more time spent watching TV, the ownership of a TV, low consumption of animal fat, and a lack of livestock.
Simply put: the wealthier Indians were the ones most likely to be obese. Not only did they have access to more food, but they had a wider variety of food choices—including unhealthy ones. They spent less time moving around (caring for livestock or engaging in other activities of rural life), and spent more time relaxing (watching TV). The result was a higher rate of obesity.
It's a well-known fact that the Western lifestyle and diet encourages obesity far more than the Oriental lifestyle and diet. However, as more people from around the world adopt Western attitudes towards life (more wealth and affluence= less activity, more downtime), the rates of obesity will continue to rise. It's vital for Westerners to take stock of their lifestyle and diet and determine what they're doing wrong.
Changing dietary patterns—adding more Omega-3s instead of Omega-6s and eating more animal fat, in addition to balancing macronutrients and consuming high-fiber foods—and adding more activity can help to decrease obesity rates around the world. It's time we all start looking for ways to improve our lifestyles and diet.
1. Little, Matthew, Sally Humphries, Kirit Patel, and Cate Dewey. “Factors Associated with BMI, Underweight, Overweight, and Obesity among Adults in a Population of Rural South India: A Cross-Sectional Study.” BMC Obesity 3 (2016): 12.