Childhood obesity has grown unabated since 1999, study finds

LA Times – Monday 25th April

Another study sadly finds that childhood obesity in the US isn’t getting any better. Despite some suggestions from previous research that the obesity epidemic may be slowing, this definitively isn’t the case for children and young people. In the period between 1999 and 2014, a study recently published in the journal Obesity, found that obesity in children continued to rise and that, most disturbingly, its more severe forms – Class II and III obesity – have seen a significant increase.

While there has been some progress in particular parts of the US, the broad picture is that a generation or more are heading for a lifetime of health problems. The 4.5 million young people that comprise the category of severely obese are saddled with hugely heightened risk for cardiovascular disease and metabolic disorder both of which will contribute to a shorter lifespan. Their plight is wrenchingly detailed in 2014’s film Fed Up, which points a definitive finger at sugar and processed foods along with a culture of poor eating.

The situation is much the same here in Britain. The recently released 2016 Statistics on Obesity, Physical Activity and Diet, England report presents some sobering figures: obesity across England has increased from 15% to 26% of the population in the past 20 years, while 1 in 3 children have a weight problem by the time they are 11. But perhaps most notable is that hospital admissions from obesity related problems has climbed from 40,00 to 440,000 in the 10 years between 2004 and 2014. Obesity, unfortunately, is going anywhere but down.

Ethiopia’s farmers fight devastating drought with land restoration

The Guardian – Monday 2nd May

As Ethiopia is hit by a devastating drought, new agroecological initiatives are working to restore the country’s extensive degraded land and increase both environmental and economic resilience.

As in Syria, environmental degradation has played a critical role in Ethiopia’s developing humanitarian crisis. With three quarters of the population dependent on agriculture for its survival, the drought is hitting hard and it is further increasing erosion and damage to soil that is already in trouble due to poor agricultural practices and over grazing, among other things. However, the country has recently signed up to the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative (AFR100), which aims to restore 100 million hectares of land throughout Africa.

The initiative seeks to repair damage to land from degradation, deforestation and desertification, rebuilding soil fertility, conserving water resources and improving food security for desperately food insecure people. Further, it seeks to build a green economy to drive the change to sustainable land practices.

It’s a brilliant case of how true cost accounting could work, with farmers and workers incentivised to restore forests, regenerate landscapes and increase healthy soils, all of which could sequester huge amounts of carbon and help mitigate climate change. The Ethiopian government is now looking for more private sector involvement to support the public investment – hoping to get investors with green interests, like the Moringa Partnership, to help farmers and businesses that can profit from these agroecological practices. If AFR100 is successful it could provide a model of how economic and environmental practices and priorities could work symbiotically to support resilience in each other.

Cattle drug threatens thousands of vultures

Nature – Friday 29th April

This story is a great example of how little we think about the impact on biodiversity of agricultural chemicals. In 2013, an anti-inflammatory drug called diclofenac was approved for veterinary use on cattle in Spain. The drug was widely linked to the decimation of vultures in India, until the country banned its use in 2006. Concern is being raised that use of the drug in cattle, which are eaten by vultures, could have the same effect in Spain leading to a decline in the number of European vultures.

While this has yet to happen, a new study has modelled the potential number of vultures that may be affected (a significant increase on an earlier study, this study slightly extended the uncertainty in consumption) and concern has been raised that the use of diclofenac could possibly push vulture populations to extinction.

The EU has not ruled on the veterinary use of diclofenac, instead leaving it to individual member states. However, researchers think it is time for a ban on the drug, especially as there is a less toxic alternative available. The precautionary principle must be invoked more frequently in regards to agricultural chemicals. They are not subject to the same strict trials that human pharmaceuticals are put to, yet they are widely pervasive through the environment impacting on human health – watch Tyler Norris speaking at the SFT’s The True Cost of American Food conference, for an eye-opener on this. With the greatest mass extinction currently going on across the earth, we cannot afford to lose more precious biodiversity.

After ‘The Biggest Loser’, their bodies fought to regain weight

The New York Times – Monday 2nd May

An American TV show has provided a valuable resource for studying the workings of obesity. The Biggest Loser showcased the trials of significantly overweight and obese contestants to lose the most weight, in a spectacular ‘game show’ style. Researchers have now followed up with the contestants of series eight (2009), to find out why the vast majority of them couldn’t keep the weight off.

It turns out that one of the problems of obesity is that our bodies fight to stay fat. One of the things that happens with weight loss is that metabolism slows – researchers found, once the weight is lost, metabolism doesn’t normalise. Instead it continues to slow, making it harder and harder to burn calories because your body wants to keep them. There are other hormonal shifts as well, most notably in leptin levels. Leptin is one of the hormones that controls hunger and it drops with weight loss, so as the pounds come off, people become hungrier – and this doesn’t change when the weight loss stops. So with a slowing metabolism and an increase in hunger, the body almost compels weight gain.

In this capacity, it indicates that on one level obesity is a chronic disease and must be treated as such, not as something that can be beaten through weight loss. That’s a different perspective on it, one that makes all the difference in the world. This knowledge of how the body works in relationship to weight loss and gain is critical in treating and controlling obesity. It will inform new treatments and see a fundamental shift in how the condition is negotiated, perhaps one where prevention will feature more strongly.

Italian courts rules food theft ‘not a crime’ if hungry

BBC News – Tuesday 3rd May

Italy’s radical and righteous ruling on food theft is a big step forward for food justice. Its highest court overturned the conviction of a homeless man who had stolen food from a Genoa supermarket amounting to just over €4 in value. The court ruled that because the food had been taken “in the face of the immediate and essential need for nourishment”, he could not be held criminally accountable.

The ruling takes serious account of our fundamental human rights – of which the right to food is paramount. Poverty is growing in Italy, as it is across the world and it is critical that the right of nourishment supersedes the right of private property. Italy’s stand on this should be noted around the world. If all countries were to recognise this, we might have a more healthy, equitable and peaceable world.

Photograph: United Way of Greater St. Louis


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