One in eight Dutch obese

‘You may consider it an unfortunate side effect of prosperity.’
‘One billion people with obesity is a lot, but it is “only” twice the number in 1990. The number in the Netherlands is three-fold that of the eighties. Photo Shutterstock

The Central Bureau for Statistics Analysis released new data on obesity in the Netherlands yesterday in light of World Obesity Day.

The World Health Organisation also released data on weight among the world population last weekend. Both organisations conclude that one in eight adults is obese. Edith Feskens, WUR professor of Global Nutrition, provides some context for these numbers.

Do these numbers shock you?

‘No. Not at all. These numbers have been rising for many years. Obesity is a disease of affluence, and many countries are doing well economically. You could see it as an unfortunate side-effect. One billion people with obesity is a lot, but it is “only” twice the number in 1990. The number in the Netherlands is three-fold that of the eighties.’

Can the tide be turned?

‘We began fighting obesity fifteen years ago. Expecting to reverse such a trend within just a couple of years is unrealistic. Policies appear to be effective, but they are slow. I had hoped that we would have managed to slow down or even halt the increase in the Netherlands.’

Why has that failed?

‘Our government is hesitant to take the drastic measures that we, as scientists, recommend. Consider, for example, lifting taxes on fruits and vegetables, levying taxes on drinks with added sugar, and passing legislation to bar fast-food restaurants from the vicinity of schools. In this sense, I don’t expect to see a decline in the number of people with obesity anytime soon.’

Healthy options are not always the easiest.

‘There is a lot of temptation to make unhealthy choices, but it is the consumer who decides what they eat. We know very well how to eat healthily but choose not to. It is not my intention to make people with obesity feel guilty, but this is not something we must passively accept.’

Do you see a future for diet pills?

‘I favour this type of medication for people who are morbidly obese and have tried everything else. But these pills are not magic, and we should exercise diligence in using them. A pharmaceutical business in the United States has begun supplying people with these pills without going through doctors and pharmacists. I fear that everyone who has difficulty losing weight will request this medication from their general practitioner. An unhealthy development, if you ask me.’

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