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Fighting Hunger Today Could Help Prevent Obesity Tomorrow, Says FAO - 2004-02-11

A new study says fighting hunger today could help prevent obesity tomorrow. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization says reducing hunger in pregnant women and children could prevent them from becoming overweight and obese later in life.

Joseph Schmid-Huber is a senior economist with the Global Perspectives Group of the FAO. From Rome, he told English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua about the seemingly contradictory link between hunger and obesity.

He says, “There are two major components that play a role here. On the one hand, we have a rapid nutrition transition brought about by falling real prices, by urbanization, by a shift to more sedentary lifestyles, by the emergence of supermarkets in developing countries. “

The FAO official says, “That all means that a lot more food is available. A lot more energy is available to consumers in developing countries and it also shows that their energy expenditure is going down.” But he says those things are combined with what’s called “fetal programming.”

In other words, if a pregnant woman suffers from hunger, her fetus is being programmed to survive in an “austere” environment, an environment with little food. As a result, its metabolism is designed to store fat. Then, if that child grows up in an environment where food is more plentiful, and where a sedentary lifestyle is taking hold, the body increases its stores of fat resulting in obesity. Mr. Schmid-Huber says this type of metabolism can be “much more of a curse than a blessing.”

Also, with the emergence of supermarkets in developing countries so called “junk foods” or “fast Foods” become more available. With an increase in obesity comes an increase in NCD’s or non-communicable diseases. These include diabetes and heart disease. Mr. Schmid-Huber says many developing countries do not have health care systems that can cope with these diseases. He says countries can move out of “food poverty and into health poverty. Things that are manageable for us (developed countries), diseases that are manageable for us can be lethal for many developing countries.”

The long-term population outlook, he says, calls for billions more people living in urban areas where food will be more plentiful while lifestyles become more sedentary.

Click above links to download or listen to interview with FAO official.