Exporting obesity: The disease of the rich world
The wealthy countries of the West are exporting processed, unhealthy foods to the developing world – and with dire consequences.
The shift towards unhealthy diets – heavy in processed foods, fat, sugar and salt – is not simply a result of an increase in wealth among growing middle classes in the developing world, but a concerted effort by large international corporations to inundate markets with unhealthy, non-locally sourced food.
A UN report authored by Olivier de Schutter reveals how this spells economic death for local farmers.
The real culprit is globalization, facilitated by international trade agreements.
Schutter also cites the example of Mexico which once had a diet described by nutritionists as near perfect but, now has the second highest rates of obesity in the world after the US. The signing of a free trade agreement with the US and Canada saw a massive increase in direct foreign investment in the country’s food processing sector in the 1990s and 2000s making junk food and soft drinks available to a larger number of people.
So more maladies like heart disease and diabetes for the developing world, without the advanced health care systems to deal with such increases of obesity-linked diseases.
This is a clear example of how the common, accepted example of economic growth does not actually increase quality of life and in some, extremely important ways, diminishes it.
From a piece I wrote back in 2009 on how traditional, natural, local diets are healthier than the new globalization-fueled diet and (somewhat ironically) how during times of economic hardship healthy diets are more prominent in the developing world, in contrast to what happens in wealthy countries.
In developing countries, the situation is largely reversed. Food markets are less industrialized and more regional, consisting essentially of local produce, with imported and processed foods considered luxuries. In difficult economic times, inhabitants of these countries tend to entrench themselves all the more in traditional models of agriculture, diet and nutrition, which are also intrinsically more environmentally friendly than mass importation and industrialized agriculture. And barring famines and food shortages, those populations often eat more healthily than their counterparts in developed nations. Diets may be less exotic, contain less meat and certainly fewer processed ingredients, but they consist of tried and true foods from local sources, often even homegrown. Selections are also less diverse, because production is localized and imports tend to be fewer and less affordable – contributing to generally healthier lifestyles.
While economic globalization, which favors wealthy Western countries and rich multinational corporations, may enrich certain giant agribusinesses, it is quite literally killing people in the developing world.
Read more in The Ecologist.