Recent WHO findings on increasing obesity rates throughout the world1 should come as no surprise. It’s been known for some time that overweight and obesity, at the population level, increases proportionally with economic development – and the world as a whole has been though its fastest rate of development in human history in the last 30 years.
How are obesity and development linked? Even an economic illiterate knows that the main factor behind development is consumption. Synonyms to ‘consume’ in Roget’s Thesaurus include: ‘eat’, ‘drink,’ ‘devour’, ‘munch through’, ‘chomp through’, ‘guzzle’.
So with the world on a development binge (and rightly so for those poorer countries to catch up), increasing weight, with increased outliers of obesity, would seem to be a natural progression.
“Another way to look at it is whether there is an underlying factor associated with obesity and the determinants of obesity that could, independently, cause chronic disease.”
The first question to ask about this is whether it matters. True, obesity has been linked with chronic diseases from respiratory problems to heart disease. But around 1 in 3 obese have no health risks, and around 1 in 4 lean people have all the risks expected of the obese.
And while this may be coincidental, the association between chronic disease and obesity determinants is such as to question whether it is obesity, or the things that cause obesity (poor diet, inactivity, stress, etc), rather than obesity per se, that has led to the dramatic rise in chronic diseases.
This is a difficult topic to study as it would involve ‘clamping’ obesity at a certain level while increasing food intake and/or physical inactivity, which typically cause increases in body weight.
Another way to look at it is whether there is an underlying factor associated with obesity and the determinants of obesity that could, independently, cause chronic disease. In the past two decades a form of low grade, systemic and chronic inflammation (‘metaflammation’) has been shown to fill this role.
Metaflammation occurs with just about any determinant of obesity – high energy/fat/sugar, inactivity, too much sitting, poor sleep, depression, and even less obvious factors such as hunger inducing Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs) in the environment.