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Obesity Becoming World Crisis

Craig and Marc Kielburger, Toronto Star
It’s already being called the next deadly global pandemic.

Projected to be a bigger threat to life than AIDS and malaria combined, obesity is quickly becoming the world’s most severe health-care crisis. As waistlines grow alarmingly, so do concerns over the impact an unhealthy population could have on everything from medicine to the economy.0204 02

The numbers paint a disturbing picture. The United Nations says there are now more overweight people in the world than starving people. Cardiovascular disease – commonly caused by obesity – kills 17 million people every year. Type II diabetes fatalities are expected to grow by 50 per cent in the next decade.

Obesity is not new, but what’s surprising is that it now plagues the developing world, too. Obesity is on a dramatic rise in poor states, as impoverished locals are increasingly introduced to mass-produced imported food that’s often cheaper than their local fare.

“It’s a huge problem,” says Erin Blanding, a development expert and head of Life in Action, a Toronto-based health and lifestyle program. “Eating unhealthy food is what you do when you are poor.”

Processed food is becoming a staple in the diets of many developing countries, much of it coming from Western factories. Visit a local market in places like Ecuador or Malawi and you’re just as likely to see imported sugary cereals and juices as local produce. Outside, Big Macs are taking the place of traditionally prepared plantains and sweet potato biscuits.

Food high in fat and low in nutrients is cheaply made and easily shipped, which undercuts local prices. But shoppers who cannot afford anything else buy it.
(4 February 2008)
Also at Common Dreams.

The world’s rubbish dump: a garbage tip that stretches from Hawaii to Japan

Kathy Marks and Daniel Howden, Independent (UK)
A “plastic soup” of waste floating in the Pacific Ocean is growing at an alarming rate and now covers an area twice the size of the continental United States, scientists have said.

The vast expanse of debris – in effect the world’s largest rubbish dump – is held in place by swirling underwater currents. This drifting “soup” stretches from about 500 nautical miles off the Californian coast, across the northern Pacific, past Hawaii and almost as far as Japan.

Charles Moore, an American oceanographer who discovered the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” or “trash vortex”, believes that about 100 million tons of flotsam are circulating in the region. Marcus Eriksen, a research director of the US-based Algalita Marine Research Foundation, which Mr Moore founded, said yesterday: “The original idea that people had was that it was an island of plastic garbage that you could almost walk on. It is not quite like that. It is almost like a plastic soup. It is endless for an area that is maybe twice the size as continental United States.”
(5 February 2008)

Wilderness under threat as visitors stay indoors

David Adam, Guardian
Fewer people are visiting national parks and taking part in outdoor activities such as camping, according to new research that suggests people are falling out of love with the natural world.

The study by US conservationists discovered an “ongoing and fundamental shift away from nature-based recreation” that they say could threaten future efforts to preserve wilderness areas. The experts say people now make up to 25% fewer trips than they did in the 1980s, and say the rise of computer games could be to blame.

Oliver Pergams, a biologist at the University of Illinois, and Patricia Zaradic of the US Environmental Leadership Programme, compared records of visits with dozens of national parks, state parks and other public land across the US, Japan and Spain. They also analysed US licence applications to hunt deer, fish and shoot ducks, as well as surveys on the popularity of outdoor pursuits such as camping and hiking.

They found that the popularity of almost all activities peaked in the 1980s and then went into sharp decline.

…The researchers said: “All major lines of evidence point to a general and fundamental shift away from people’s participation in nature-based recreation. The cultural shift away from nature recreation appears to extend outside of the US, to at least Japan, and the decline appears to have begun 1981-1991. The root cause may be videophilia [a preference for indoor media activities].”

They say the findings could represent a general shift away from interest in nature, and that “if this is the case, it is of enormous importance”. Contact with the environment produces more eco-friendly behaviour, they say, and people must be exposed to nature as children if they are to care about it as adults. With fewer adults spending time in the great outdoors, children are less likely to experience it.
(5 February 2008)