EDITORIAL: Obesity a growing global issue - Taipei Times
Thu, May 10, 2018 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Obesity a growing global issue

The lack of an invitation for Taiwan to this year’s World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland, even with the observer status through which it was permitted to attend from 2009 to 2016, once again emphasizes the immoral nature of the pressure Beijing exerts on Taiwan in its preoccupation with having the government accept its “one China” principle.

Taiwan should have the right to participate in the decisionmaking body of the WHO and have proper access to the resources that WHO membership entails, because health is a human right, not a political game. Unfortunately, the preoccupation with cross-strait issues and the investment in political capital that they demand all too often distract public attention from important domestic health issues.

A case in point is Taiwan’s part in the global trend toward increasing levels of obesity, and the causes and dangers thereof. A Ministry of Health and Welfare report released on April 26 classified 39.2 percent of white-collar workers last year as either overweight (24.7 percent) or obese (14.5 percent). About one-quarter of adults in Taiwan have a fatty liver, a condition associated with obesity. Obesity and a fatty liver are caused by the consumption of foods with high sugar and fat content, as well as lack of exercise and a sedentary lifestyle.

A culture of eating out, coupled with the ubiquity of convenience stores selling processed foods high in sugar and fat and beverage stores selling sugary drinks, mean that Taiwanese are constantly surrounded by the temptation of unhealthy foods and drinks. These are precisely the kind of things that are contributing to the obesity crisis.

Office work and late working hours also lead to people leading a largely sedentary lifestyle and being too busy to exercise or cook healthy foods at home, using ingredients they can control and avoiding those with high sugar or fat content.

Obesity is a dangerous trend that has over the past few decades seen increasing percentages of Taiwanese being classified as either overweight or obese. A protracted period of being overweight or obese can lead to significant health problems, including hypertension, hyperglycemia, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular or cerebral diseases.

In addition to physiological issues, it also places people at risk of psychological issues, such as depression and low self-esteem, as well as poor motivation.

This does not just affect the adult salaried workers mentioned in the ministry’s report. The problem often has its roots earlier in people’s lives: It also affects children and adolescents, groups that are often more susceptible than adults to food marketing. If a child or adolescent becomes overweight or obese, it is more difficult for them to lose weight or to maintain that weight loss. As a consequence, gaining excess weight at this early stage in life could lead to a lifelong struggle with being overweight or obese. It could also lead to early onset type 2 diabetes or other health complications early in life.

There is also evidence of childhood and adolescent obesity having adverse psychosocial consequences and, in some cases, lower educational achievement. All of this feeds into a complex interplay of health issues that would carry into adult life.

For these reasons, preventing and addressing excess weight gain in children and adolescents is of the utmost importance.

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