Obesity causes over 5 million deaths yearly, as per scientists' evidence. It leads to various non-communicable diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and stroke, multiple forms of cancer, and mental health issues. The impact of obesity and its effects on health are estimated to cost the world 3% of the gross domestic product. Obesity is one side of the double burden of malnutrition- the other being underweight. Though more people are obese than underweight in every region except sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, obesity is not a problem only in high-income countries. It is rapidly increasing all over the world—especially among children.
Why is it such a rapidly expanding problem? Is it exclusively because of people overeating? Of being gluttonous?
Gluttony, which is overeating or excessive drinking, is condemned in the Holy Scriptures (Proverbs 23:20–21). We are instructed to restrain our appetites—"put a knife to your throat if you have a big appetite.” Proverbs 23:2.
In my context, in Zimbabwe, gluttony is not the main reason that is causing obesity.
People can’t afford to buy the nutritious food necessary for a balanced diet. People can only afford and consume what the industrial food system produces for profits—ultra-processed foods which are poor in nutrition but calorie-rich. As a person with a visual impairment, I live in an urban environment which lacks open spaces, facilities, or access for me to exercise or participate in sport safely and securely.
Let us ask the profound question of why people are obese in our context.
What aspects of our society—the economic, cultural, and social settings—are making people prone to becoming obese? The key to preventing obesity is to act early, ideally even before a baby is conceived. Good nutrition for women—including when in pregnancy, followed by exclusive breastfeeding for infants until six months of age and continued breastfeeding until two years and beyond, is best for all infants and young children to be protected against obesity. Are we taking effective steps, including restricting the marketing to children of food and drinks high in fats, sugar and salt, taxing sugary drinks, and providing better access to affordable, healthy food? Are we ensuring that urban spaces make space for safe walking, cycling, and recreation, and churches and schools help households teach children healthy habits from early on?
Are we working together to create a better food environment so everyone can access and afford a healthy diet?
Overcoming obesity is more than changing one's behaviour; it is a matter of ensuring systemic justice!