WHO urges action against obesity as poor nations get fatter

Updated 20 August 2013
0

WHO urges action against obesity as poor nations get fatter

Alarmed at expanding waistlines around the world, the UN’s health agency has urged countries to get serious about reining in a ballooning obesity crisis, proposing an action plan that includes taxing unhealthy snacks and rules against marketing junk food to children.
Once considered only a problem in high-income countries like the United States, where nearly 70 percent of the adult population is overweight, obesity is now growing fastest in developing nations in Africa and Latin America, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
As the urgency to tackle the crisis grows, member countries of the UN body late on Monday adopted a 2013-2020 action plan to fight against diseases like cardiovascular illness, cancer, and chronic diabetes.
“The cost of inaction far outweighs the cost of taking action,” the body said.
The plan, which targets risky lifestyle choices such as smoking, alcohol consumption and an unhealthy diet, includes a goal to halt the rise in global obesity levels by 2020.
“The fight against obesity is... one of the most important factors in fighting noncommunicable diseases,” Francesco Branca, WHO’s head of nutrition for health and development, told reporters in Geneva.
Obesity levels nearly doubled between 1980 and 2008, when at least one in three adults worldwide was overweight and around one in 10 was considered obese, according to the WHO.
At least 2.8 million adults die each year as a result of being overweight or obese, not counting the large percentages of diabetes, heart disease and cancer cases attributable to overweight, according to the UN agency’s numbers. The world’s fattest country is the tiny South Pacific island nation of Nauru, where 71 percent of the population is considered obese, WHO figures show.
The newly adopted plan “is extremely important in addressing one of the most devastating health crises of our time,” said John Stewart of the watchdog Corporate Accountability International, describing obesity as “an epidemic.”
Since foods high in fat, sugar and salt are often cheaper than healthier alternatives, the battle against the bulge is increasingly spreading to poorer nations, observers say.
“In many high-income countries the problem is levelling off, but the worst problems we see are in low- and middle-income countries where the rate of obesity... is increasing at a very fast pace,” Godfrey Xuereb, a WHO expert on the issue, told AFP.
The new WHO plan calls for a range of measures to stymy obesity’s upward trend, including urging food and beverage companies to cut levels of salt and sugar in their products, replace saturated and trans-fats with unsaturated fats, and reduce portion sizes.
And in a world where more than 40 million children under the age of five are overweight, it also calls on countries to strictly control the marketing of unhealthy foods and drinks to children.
Taking on marketing aimed at youngsters was “incredibly important,” Stewart told AFP, insisting that food and beverage corporations for too long have been “taking advantage of children’s inherent vulnerabilities by marketing them unhealthy food that makes them sick.”
The industry itself has welcomed most of the WHO proposals, claiming it had already made strides both in “reformulating” existing products to make them healthier and in voluntarily reining in the advertising of unhealthy foods and drinks to youngsters.
The recommended actions “are ones we support and have been implementing on a voluntary basis since 2004,” said Jane Reid of the International Food an Beverage Alliance, which represents the world’s largest food and drink corporations, including Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and Nestle.
The organization, which maintains that voluntary action and self-regulation by companies is the answer to the obesity problem, was less supportive of the WHO plan’s call for countries to consider taxing unhealthy foods and subsidising healthier choices in a bid to impact eating habits.
“Fiscal measures aimed specifically to change behavior are complex to design and enforce,” Reid wrote in an e-mail to AFP, adding there was little proof such taxes would help improve eating habits.
And, she maintained, a food tax “would be felt hardest by low-income families,” who might “compensate for unanticipated budget shortfalls by buying more energy-dense, lower-nutrient foods.”
Stewart meanwhile cautioned against giving the industry players widely blamed for the obesity epidemic too much say in how to solve the problem.
“What we really need are statutory regulations that are binding and make a real impact on kids’ health,” he said.


Take a healthy approach to the issue of nutritional supplements

Updated 21 April 2018
0

Take a healthy approach to the issue of nutritional supplements

JEDDAH: There is a growing need for dietary supplements in Saudi Arabia, given the increasing popularity of junk food and the effective role supplements can play in treating diseases caused by mineral and vitamin deficiencies.

A recent study found that 22 percent of Saudi people take nutritional supplements. It is no surprise, then, that many Saudi businesses have forged partnerships with international dietary-supplement companies.

Dr. Rowaidah Idriss, a Saudi dietitian with a Ph.D. in nutrition, said dietary supplements can be defined as substances that provide the human body with a nutrient missing from a person’s regular diet. However, she stressed that they are not intended to replace healthy eating.

She also warned against taking them without first talking to a doctor or dietitian, as some products can have side effects, especially if taken before surgery or with other medicines. 

“They can also cause problems if someone has a history of certain health issues,” she added.

A blood test can determine which nutrients we are not getting enough of in our diet, and therefore which supplements might be beneficial. Nutritional supplements are also used to help treat certain health conditions. 

“Vitamin C, for example, is often used to reduce cold symptoms,” said Idriss. “Fish oil is taken to lower elevated blood triglycerides.”

She suggested four daily essentials that can bridge nutritional gaps in our diet: a multivitamin, vitamin D, calcium and omega-3 fatty acids. 

“I routinely recommend a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement to my clients after consulting with their doctors,” she said. 

“For menstruating women, who require 18 milligrams of iron each day, a daily supplement helps boost iron intake.”

She said people over the age of 50 are advised to take a multivitamin to ensure they are getting enough B12, which plays a key role in the functioning of the nervous system and the development of red blood cells. 

“Older adults are more vulnerable to B12 deficiency because they are more likely to have decreased production of stomach acid, which is needed to release B12 from the proteins in food.” said Idriss. 

“It is also a good idea to take a daily multivitamin if one is following a low-calorie diet.”

She also pointed out that a high intake of DHA and EPA, the two omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil, are linked with a lower risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. A deficiency of DHA might also increase the risk of Alzheimer’s. 

“A daily intake of 1,000 milligrams of both DHA and EPA is equivalent to eating 12 ounces of salmon a week,” said Idriss.

The dietitian believes that the Saudis who take food supplements often do so more to benefit their appearance than their health. 

“Saudi women consume more dietary supplements than other people in Saudi Arabia,” she said. 

“They do so either to lose weight or to care for their hair and nails. Bodybuilders also take large amounts of supplements.”

However, both groups, according to Idriss, tend to take supplements on the recommendation of friends and trainers, not doctors. 

She warned that commercials and social-media rumors can persuade people to buy supplements online that may not be approved as safe by the Saudi Food and Drug Authority, and advised people to get as much of their daily nutrient needs as possible from healthy eating.

Dr. Rowaidah Idriss

“Along with vitamins and minerals, a healthy diet provides fiber and hundreds of protective phytochemicals, something a supplement cannot do,” she said, adding that the body absorbs natural food more effectively than supplements.

In addition, combining supplements with medications can have dangerous, even life-threatening, effects. 

“Drugs for heart disease and depression, treatments for organ transplants, and birth-control pills are less effective when taken with herbal supplements,” she said.

“Taking an anticoagulant, aspirin, and a vitamin E supplement together may increase the potential for internal bleeding or even stroke.”

 

Natural sources

With the spread of fast-food restaurants and their alluring ads, the long-term health of the Saudi people is in danger, as children and young people snub natural sources of nutrients, such as fruit and vegetables. 

“This can lead to many deficiency diseases. Moreover, vegetarians can develop similar illnesses due to the absence of meat in their diet,” she said.
Dr. Ashraf Ameer, a family-medicine consultant, said the importance of nutritional supplements lies in treating mineral and vitamin deficiency, especially for pregnant women, growing children, diabetics, people with chronic diseases, and the elderly. 

“However, these products should come from reliable companies and meet Saudi food and drug requirements,”he added.

Mohammed Yaseen, who has a food supplements business, said his company works with a leading British health-care company to provide the Saudi market with high quality products.

“With this we hope we can contribute to the national transformation program by raising private-sector spending in health care from 25 percent to 35 percent, which in turn would lead to the sector’s financial sustainability and boost economic and social development in the Kingdom,” Yaseen said.

Decoder

Vitamin Terms

DHA stands for docosahexaenoic acid. EPA stands for eicosapentaenoic acid.  Phytochemical is a biologically active compound found in plants.