UN Meets to Discuss Obesity and Diabetes Epidemic

The United Nations (UN) held a General Assembly meeting in New York where they discussed the prevention of noncommunicable diseases, specifically obesity and diabetes. It was only the second time in UN history that it has gathered to discuss health issues. (The only other time was addressing the HIV/AIDS crisis in 2001.) CNN published an article about the assembly, explaining that the intention was to create new policy resolutions that they urge nations to adopt. The resolutions focus on three main areas: to recognize that the incidence and consequences of obesity and diabetes are increasing, to strengthen national institutional capabilities and policies for prevention, and lastly, to encourage greater international cooperation.

The figures on obesity worldwide are startling; according to the article, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that rates of obesity worldwide have more than doubled since 1980, with 1.5 billion adults overweight in 2008.  Of this group, about 200 million men and 300 million women were obese. Almost 43 million kids under the age of 5 were overweight in 2010.  The figures on diabetes are no less troubling. The International Diabetes Foundation (IDF) estimates 366 million people worldwide now suffer from diabetes and says the global epidemic is getting worse, with one person dying from diabetes every seven seconds.

Yet, in many developing countries, obesity and diabetes are seen as health conditions of the rich. With more suffering from malnutrition, politicians in such countries do not feel pressured to introduce new legislation for obesity and diabetes. Additionally, in some places such as China, obesity is seen as a signal of good fortune.

One of the biggest challenges in meeting the goals of the Assembly is lack of funding. A lot of funding is tied up in the HIV/AIDS crisis. Also of issue, in many nations there is a lack of proactive, well-organized civic movement urging politicians to respond to the obesity and diabetes epidemic. Without substantial funding or political pressure, the UN is unlikely to sway poorer nations to adopt their policies.

It is well-known that obesity rates are increasing and that being obese raises the risk of diabetes; however, a new study found that the amount of extra weight someone carries and how long it is carried can increase the risk. You can read more about the study here.


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