20 April 2012

The Weight of the World

According to the newspaper this week, approximately 1.6 billion of the planet's population are now overweight - and here is a guide to the countries helping to tip the scales:

America (70.8% overweight)  Boston Emergency Services in 2011 unveiled an ambulance for the obese.  The vehicle is equipped with a stretcher than can hold 850lb and a hydraulic lift with a 1,000lb capacity to ensure the safety of the sick and stem back injuries amongst crews hoisting hefty patients. Police officers are now trained to search obese suspects 'up the folds'.
Australia (63.7% overweight)  Royal Adelaide Hospital recently announced a refurbishment to help staff cope with an influx of obese patients: bigger rooms with ceiling-mounted lifting apparatus, reinforced wheelchairs and beds, and larger CAT scanning machines.  
Brazil (51.7% overweight) Along with an expanding economy comes expanding waistlines. Brazil is currently on track to be as obese as the US by 2022. Brazilians' natural sweet tooth certainly doesn't help - they lather sugar on already-sweet fruits like pineapple, and cafezinho, the national expresso-like coffee, is more sugar than liquid - and nor do their ideas of body image.  As one commentator put it 'American men may focus on breasts, but the Brazilian man has always wanted something to grab on to'.

China (24.5% overweight) More than 325 million Chinese are now overweight or obese, a figure that could double in the next two decades.  Fitness and slimming is a £700 million industry.  Sales of weight-loss teas are rising sharply, and traditional Chinese treatments like acupuncture and fire-cupping are more popular than ever.  Not that this makes things any easier for a Western slimming groups, which have great difficult assigning nutritional 'points' or calories to dishes like 'desert boat sails on green (camel's foot simmered with hearts of rape).
Columbia (48.3% overweight) Perhaps the most exercise-friendly country in the word.  Every Sunday morning in Bogota, the roads are closed to cars to allow free reign for cyclists, roller bladers and joggers to safely exercise across the 120km of the ciclovia.
Finland (58% overweight) 73% of the country exercises regularly, helped by a government initiative that awards cash prizes to towns that lose the most weight.  As part of the same programme, the Finnish government also encouraged shoe companies to make non-slip soles standard, so people wouldn't be deterred from walking in icy weather.
France (50.7% overweight)  Contrary to the bestselling book, French women do get fat.  
Jamaica (55.3% overweight)  In Jamaican culture, a skinny - or 'meagre' - woman is considered unattractive, whilst heaviness is a sign of happiness and social harmony.  This is why many women bulk up with black-market 'chicken pills', ie chicken feed with appetite-boosting arsenic.  Side-effects include diarrhoea, dermatitis and - eventually - cancer.
Nauru (94.5% overweight)  A tiny island in the Pacific that qualifies as the world's fattest nation, Nauru's life expectancy for men is 59 years and for women 64.  Phosphate mining, long a source of wealth, has left the island virtually incapable of growing vegetables.  So islanders rely on processed Western important - and a lot of them.  People in Nauru many only eat once a day but the plate could be 4" high.
Malaysia (44.2% overweight) Schoolchildren have had their body mass index printed on their report cards since 2011, to help parents keep track of their children's weight.
Mauritania (36% overweight)  A local saying goes, 'The glory of a man is measured by the fatness of his woman'.  A third of women over 40 have said they were force-fed as children, to tall into local standard of beauty.  The process of called gavage,  A French word that describes the fattening up to geese to produce foi gras.  A quarter of the 1.5 million women in the country are obese, contrasting sharply with most sub-Saharan countries.  
Mexico (68.1% overweight)  Since 1980, the percentage of overweight or obese Mexicans has tripled, and diabetes has become the leading cause of death.  In some areas of the country, it's easier to get a soft drink than a clean glass of water.  The vast majority of Mexico City's schools lack drinkable water; the consumption of soft drinks has increased 60% over the past 14 years.  The average Mexican eats 433lb of bakery goods per year, compared with only 156lb of vegetables.
Nauru (94.5% overweight)  A tiny island in the Pacific that qualifies as the world's fattest nation, Nauru's life expectancy for men is 59 years and for women 64.  Phosphate mining, long a source of wealth, has left the island virtually incapable of growing vegetables.  So islanders rely on processed Western important - and a lot of them.  People in Nauru many only eat once a day but the plate could be 4" high.
Nigeria (26.8% overweight)  'Fattening Rooms', where women are encouraged to eat large amounts throughout the day, are popular in Nigeria, especially before weddings.  A key ingredient is garri, a porridge made from cassava tubers.
Qatar (72.3% overweight)  With a GDP of $181.7billion and a population of just under two million, per capital, Qatar is the richest nation of Earth.  And it's fast becoming the fattest, too.  Sweltering temperatures of up to 41C make walking - or any kind of outdoor activity - unbearable.  Society and family life revolves around five large meals, interspersed with snacks of tea and cake.   It's predicted that within five years, 73% or Qatari women and 69% of men will qualify as obese.
Saudi Arabia (69% overweight)  Girls are banned from participating in sports in Saudi state schools.  The stance of the official Supreme Council of Religious Scholars is best summed up that the 'excessive movement and jumping' needed in football and basketball might cause girls to tear their hymens and lose their virginity.
Sweden (53.3% overweight)  Obesity is on the rise in Sweden, but at a markedly slower rate than in other countries.  In fact, the Swedes are now on track to overtake the Swiss as Europe's slimmest people, thanks to a recent craze for high-fat, low-carb dieting.  Endorsed by health authorities in 2008, the diet is now followed by a quarter of Swedes and its popularity was partly to blame for neighbouring Norway's famous 'great butter shortage' of 2011. 
Tonga (90.8% overweight)  Poor health and obesity are blamed on imported food like spam, corned beef and 'turkey tails' (a ban on the latter was recently lifted to ease membership of the World Trade Organisation).  Tonga's late king, who died in 2006, was once the world's heaviest monarch, weighing 440lb.  He tried to persuade Tongans to get fit by offering cash incentives and taking up - in his seventies - bicycle rides around the island (he shed 154lb).
UAE (68.3% overweight)  When the UAE football team failed to qualify for the 2010 World Cup, one of the defenders blamed the team's addition to fast food.
UK (64.2% overweight)  Despite the Government's three-year-old Change4Life campaign and health Secretary's call for the population to cut 5billion calories from its diet. obesity in the UK is getting worse.  It causes an estimated 9,-000 premature deaths a year, and if current trends continue, 90% of British children will be obese by 2050.
Zimbabwe (25.5% overweight)  In 2004, the Zimbabwean government came up with what they called the 'Obesity tourism Strategy;.  As Zimbabweans starve, overweight tourists would be encouraged to visit the country and work on farms seized from white farmers, losing weight in the process.

  • $375 million - the cost since 2000, to airlines, of fuel to compensate for the additional weight of their passengers (350million gallons).
  • Proof that portions are getting bigger: a team of Cornell University studied 52 paintings of The Last Supper made over the past 1,000 years and established that, over that time, the size of the meal depicted had grown by 69%; bread size alone grew by around 23%. "We think that as art imitates life, these changes have been reflected in paintings of history's most famous dinner".

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