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WEF Panel Hashes Out Global Obesity Crisis

January 29, 2013

3 Min Read
WEF Panel Hashes Out Global Obesity Crisis

DAVOS, SwitzerlandThe World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting in Davos hosted a timely open debate on Saturday, Jan. 26, War Against Obesity," just as Gallup finalized its latest poll delivering the news that 26.2% of Americans fall into the category of obese.

The WEF estimates $47 trillion worth of output might be lost in the next 20 years due to chronic diseases and mental health problems combined, with obesity to blame for 44% of the diabetes costs and 23% of heart disease related costs. In other figures, WEF estimates obesity is the fastest-growing chronic disease, killing 2.8 million adults every year. Worldwide, according to WEF presenters, 1.4 billion adults are classified as obese.

The group of five panelists included Paul Bulcke, chief executive officer, Nestlé, Switzerland; Linda P. Fried, Dean and DeLamar Professor of Public Health, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, New York; Lisa MacCallum Carter, vice president, access to sport, Nike, USA; Allison Martin, member of the group management board and head, Life and Health, Swiss Re, United Kingdom; Marc Van Ameringen, executive director, GAIN (Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition), Switzerland; and moderator Jason Li Yet-Sen, director, The George Institute for Global Health, Peoples Republic of China.

Each panelist promoted a different approach and voiced opinions related to different facets of the obesity issue, its causes and possible solutions.

MacCallum Carter said obesity is linked to an inactivity crisis, urging greater involvement with physical activity, especially among children, to create early positive experiences" that will encourage continued activity into adulthood. She said that compared to 1967,  todays Americans are 32% less active; by 2030 Americans will be 50% less activea direct result of modernization of the way we work, commute and live. In China, for example, rapid modernization has led to that population being 45% less active in only half a generations time. That is way too rapid a change not to expect consequences," MacCallum Carter said, obesity is the most obvious and prevalent, but other consequences are more pervasive."

Panelists discussed nutrition, education, workplace solutions, supply chain challenges and food reformulation. Van Ameringen noted that within the food manufacturing sector there is a "lot of uneven performance" in terms of reformulating foods with healthier profiles. Yat-sen joked, On product innovation, Im still waiting for the low-fat, high-fiber Big Mac."

While panelists promoted the concept that the solution to the obesity epidemic involves multiple stakeholders including government, education, corporations and the individual, questions fielded from the audience at the end of the open-panel discussion revealed a different mindset.

Questioners brought up food labels and corporations ingredient selections. One audience member implied it is no coincidence the obesity epidemic is global, and corporations happen to be global players in the food industry, questioning the recent purchase by Nestlé of a Chinese confectionery company.

Bulcke responded that in addition to the Chinese candy company, Nestlé also makes ice cream. When you give ice cream to a child and see sunshine in his eyes, that cant be so bad," he said. But on the other hand, dont give him a liter of ice cream; exercise portion control."

Bulcke added that R&D and modern technology can provide consumers with enjoyable, tasty foods that come in healthier versions. He referenced the companys Skinny Cow line, a product that is slow churned and contains half the fat and one-third fewer calories than regular ice cream. He mentioned Nestlé as a company invests heavily in R&D to reformulate products and wants to continue to be part of the dialogue related to obesity.

All panelists agreed while global obesity is increasing rapidly and could be considered at crisis or pandemic levels, it poses a complex systems problem with no easy, single solution.

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