When most people envision an epidemic, they imagine a virus sweeping across countries and claiming lives. While much of the world is shielded from this version of catastrophe at the moment, know this: there is an epidemic taking the world by storm. It spans from North America to Europe and Asia. It’s a silent, albeit visible, killer.
Obesity rates have soared around the globe over the last 20 years. And while North America and Europe were the first continents to be hit by the negative effects of an over-abundance of high calorie foods, the problem has spread to other areas of the world as well. Nowhere is this health hazard wreaking more havoc than in the pacific islands.
Get this: 9 out of the 10 most obese nations in the world are Pacific Islander nations. For millennia, these nations were among the healthiest on the planet. Fresh fish, meat, and fruit were the staples of their diet. But all of that changed when, in the wake of World War II, western powers colonized the region. In an attempt to ‘civilize’ the local people and increase their dependence on imported goods, people were encouraged to incorporate flour, sugar, rice and soft drinks into their diets. Eating western foods was seen as a sign of social status. The results, as the Journal of Public Health and Nutrition notes in a new paper, have been catastrophic.
Here, courtesy of Clinic Compare, is a graphic showing the 10 most obese nations in the world. The percentage below each country’s name is its obesity rate. In American Samoa, the world’s most overweight nation, 76% of the population is obese.
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Curious to see where your country ranks? Check out this map. Outside of the outrageous rates seen in the pacific islands, the United States is one of the world’s most obese countries.
Nutritionist Katrina Mather sees a common denominator amongst all the nations struggling with obesity.
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“If you look at the countries where obesity and chronic disease have their strongest hold and try to understand what has been done differently in recent history - the common denominator is a massive shift in what these nations eat and drink,” Mather told MailOnline. “My research points the finger at highly processed, sugar-rich convenience foods and drinks lying behind all forms of chronic disease and obesity.”
Hundreds of anti-obesity initiatives have been launched around the world in recent years, and we’d be wise to pour more energy into those efforts. According to the National Institutes of Health, obesity is responsible for roughly 300,000 deaths annually in America.