Obesity research ‘needs a multi-disciplinary approach’

World is facing an obesity pandemic due to food globalisation Copyright: Flickr/permanently scatterbrained

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[BARCELONA] Researchers need to link medical causes of obesity with changing diet patterns caused by the globalisation of food and agriculture sectors to tackle the obesity pandemic, say food scientists.

Marta Guadalupe Rivera-Ferre, a researcher from the department of food and animal nutrition at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, Spain, told SciDev.Net that obesity researchers should collaborate with social science researchers and adopt a more multi-disciplinary approach to understand the worldwide rise in obesity.

Rivera-Ferre says narrowing the research focus to metabolic and genetic causes of obesity is inadequate, as the problem has wider socioeconomic dimensions. "If it were all about a gene or metabolic defect, it does not account for the huge rising numbers of obese people across the globe," she says.

Rivera-Ferre cautioned a session on obesity at the Euroscience Open Forum in Barcelona this week (21 July) that globalisation of agriculture and trade has led to a new culture of multinational corporations monopolising the processed food industry and retail markets.

This has led to diets increasingly being dictated by products manufactured by large private firms. Other factors contributing to the rise in obesity include a more sedentary lifestyle with little exercise.

Liz Young, senior lecturer at the faculty of health and sciences at the University of Staffordshire, United Kingdom, said that studies have found a link between diet transitions in developing countries and obesity.

Many people in developing countries are leaving behind their traditional diets rich in raw foods with minimal processing, for processed foods rich in sugars and fats produced by global corporations.

This change in diet patterns has serious implications for Africa and Asia according to scientists. These countries are facing a paradoxical form of malnutrition, arising from hunger and over-eating the wrong kind of food, says Riverra-Ferre.

A study in the July/August issue of Health Affairs reported obesity rates were soaring in China, with more than 25 per cent of Chinese adults obese (see Study finds Chinese obesity rates soaring).