Calls for urgent action on obesity, undernutrition and climate change

Amanda Lyons

29/01/2019 1:59:46 PM

GPs are on the frontlines of the most significant threats to humanity.

Car-dominated transportation systems result in sedentary lifestyles and generate massive emissions.
Car-dominated transportation systems result in sedentary lifestyles and generate massive emissions.

‘What we’re doing now is unsustainable … We’re running out of time.’
Those are the words of Dr William Dietz, a public health expert at George Washington University and an author a of a new study that he hopes will give rise to a strong sense of urgency in addressing the planet’s biggest threats to humanity.
The report, The global syndemic of obesity, undernutrition, and climate change, was conducted by the Lancet Commission on Obesity (the Commission).
It found malnutrition, which includes undernutrition and obesity, to be a leading cause of early death and poor health on a global scale: four million deaths a year are linked to obesity, while approximately 815 million people are chronically undernourished. It also recognised climate change as the third pandemic due to its wide-reaching effects on human health through increasing incidences of extreme weather events such as flood and drought.
These three factors form a global synergy of epidemics because of their interaction with each other, shared underlying drivers, and far-reaching impacts on people throughout the world.
‘Food systems not only drive the obesity and undernutrition pandemic, but also generate more than a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions, with cattle production accounting for more than half of these emissions,’ Professor Steven Allender, Lancet Obesity Commissioner and Director of the Global Obesity Centre at Deakin University, said.
‘Car-dominated transportation systems support sedentary lifestyles and generate between 14–25% of emissions.’

Obesity is linked to four million global deaths every year. (Image: World Obesity image bank)

The effects of these factors on public health have been clearly seen in Australia, with significant rises in rates of overweight and obesity over recent decades until almost two in three adults, and one in four children, are now recognised as overweight or obese. These statistics have led GPs to identify obesity as one of the health issues causing them the most concern for the future, and one they would like to see the Federal Government target with policy action.
‘At current rates, obesity will affect our children more than it does the current generation of adults,’ Dr Georgia Rigas, Chair of the RACGP Specific Interests Obesity Management network, told newsGP last year.
‘Any other life-threatening health issue of this magnitude would be treated as a top priority and would mobilise cohesive action.’
Other GPs would also like to see more recognition of the effects climate change can have on their patients’ health.
‘General practice is where the rubber hits the road,’ Dr Tim Senior, a GP with a special interest in environmental issues, told newsGP last year. ‘You hear the talk of global impacts [of climate change], but we’re dealing with the impacts on people in our own communities.’
However, the Commission’s report has found global governmental responses wanting, pointing the finger at policy inaction, preference given to industry profits in areas such as food manufacturing, mining and transport over public health interests, and a lack of public demand for change.
Public health advocates have highlighted similar issues in Australia, who have criticised the Federal Government’s failure to implement a sugar tax or address the health impacts of a changing climate.
‘With such alarming statistics we can comfortably say that what we have been doing as individuals, communities, healthcare professionals, organisations and government bodies, is clearly not enough,’ Dr Rigas said. ‘Obesity prevention and treatment – it needs fixing.’
Dr Senior feels the same way about climate change.
‘The effects on our own community in Australia will also be really quite severe,’ he said. ‘There’s no one who’s left unaffected by this, which is why it should be everyone’s concern and everyone’s responsibility.’

climate change Lancet obesity undernutrition

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Michael Schien   7/02/2019 1:03:53 PM

thanks for an excellent series of articles on obesity, food systems, climate and malnutrition. Good to see the RACGP acknowledging these issues. As the Lancet Commission says, this is a "syndemic" affecting all of us one way or the other. Even if you manage to discount the overwhelming scientific evidence on global warming, our present food systems are environmentally unsustainable, focus more on profit than health, and will not be able to feed a projected world population of 10 billion by 2050. Thirty years of research, and recommendations for positive change, have largely been ignored by government, including in Australia, where our food policies are heavily influenced by the soft drink, livestock and fast food industries. It doesn't have to be this way, and GP's can and must be effective agents for change. Doing nothing is not an option.