The issue is no longer just a source of personal anxiety for the overweight. Governments are increasingly concerned about the social and economic consequences such as the multiplying burdens on health services. Less obvious, but equally real, are dilemmas faced by organisations and businesses. Airlines and cinema-owners - two examples at random - who look into the future are left to ponder how to fit bigger seats for bigger people without losing money.
Tackling the issue has proved difficult. This week has seen the UN World Health Organisation attempt to agree a consensus for a global strategy to reduce obesity. However, the Geneva talks faced stronger than expected pressure from parts of the food industry, notably the sugar lobby.
The science behind obesity also remains disputed. A long battle has raged between the industry and health experts over whether the best solution lies in people eating less or in exercising more. This defines the mainstream argument but is purely an environmental paradigm. Some scientists take issue, pointing out the genetic predisposition to obesity is largely ignored by policymakers, which undermines the effectiveness of strategies being drawn up, reports FT.com
According to Forbes.com sugar industry lobbyists may still stall a U.N. campaign against obesity, despite last-minute backing for it from two of the world's largest food business groups. The announcement late on Tuesday by the U.S. Grocery Manufacturers of America (GMA) and the Confederation of the Food and Drink Industries of the European Union was a boost to those pressing for approval of the blueprint by the World Health Organisation's annual assembly.
The plan, on which debate is due to begin later on Wednesday, recommends people limit intakes of fats, sugar and salt -- blamed for a surge in cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers around the world.
Health officials from 192 member states, meeting this week in Geneva, will be asked to approve the Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health, which recommends that consumers limit intake of fat, salt and sugar and exercise more.
"There is no time to lose," Julie Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, said yesterday in Geneva on behalf of Tommy Thompson, the U.S. Secretary for Health and Human Services. "Our waistlines are expanding while our health is deteriorating."
The WHO estimates more than 1 billion adults worldwide are overweight, with at least 300 million obese, putting them at risk of diseases including diabetes, cancer, heart attacks and strokes. Diabetes affects at least 177 million people, and the number is likely to double by 2030, the United Nations agency said, informs bloomberg.com