Obesity: An Epidemic Weighing Down Migrant Populations

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Not only is the world population rapidly growing in number, but it is also physically growing in size. According to recent estimates, over 500 million people worldwide are characterized as obese – a figure that has more than doubled since 1980. With the number of people touched by the disease at epidemic proportions, obesity is now one of the most pressing public health issues affecting the globe.

Although many people tend to associate obesity with the industry and material excess of developed countries, obesity is a rapidly growing problem in less developed regions as well. In poorer countries, where malnutrition has historically been (and still is) a major concern, the rate of obesity has more than tripled over the course of the past 20 years, especially among young people. Today, of the 42 million children considered to be overweight, close to 35 million live in developing countries. For the first time in recent history children everywhere are projected to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents.

In part, the rise of obesity among adults and children in the developing world can be attributed to rapid urbanization and migration from poor to more affluent countries. After migrating, many are exposed to lifestyles that involve less physical exercise and the consumption of high-fat, high-sugar diets. In order to blend into their new culture and/or cope with the stress that characterizes migration, migrants often abuse food intake and fail to understand the dangers involved in excess consumption of fast and cheap foods. The development of post-migration obesity particularly threatens certain ethnic populations – such as Latinos – that are seemingly more susceptible to significant weight gain.

More needs to be done to reach these groups with preventative messages and nutrition education. Encouraging migrants to maintain healthy eating patterns and to engage in physical exercise could be one of the more immediate ways of dealing with the epidemic of obesity globally.

At the same time, it would be short-sighted to assume that migrants are the only ones at risk of developing this life threatening disease.  Greater efforts must be made in schools and the work place to provide as many people as possible with carefully-tailored information on obesity and its dangers.  If the issue of obesity is neglected, the world faces a massive  problem that will not only lead to countless deaths, but will also be incredibly expensive to manage.

-Julia Whall

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