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AAAS speakers report worldwide 'epidemic' of obesity

BOSTON, MASS. - Obesity, considered until recently to be an exclusively "Western" disease, now poses a serious threat to the health of developing nations, particularly children, say scientists studying this emerging "global epidemic of fat."

"We want to alert the science community that people are not immune to this epidemic just because they live in non-industrial or poor populations," Marquisa La Velle of the University of Rhode Island said today.

La Velle was one of several researchers who discussed the biological and cultural factors behind the worldwide trend toward excessive fatness, during the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Annual Meeting in Boston today.

In December 2001, the United States Surgeon General released a report warning that obesity could soon kill more Americans than tobacco smoke. In industrialized nations, obesity is associated with an increased risk for diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular, and digestive diseases.

Until recently, these disorders have paled in comparison to the health challenges posed by famine and infectious disease to lower and middle income countries in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America.

But now, the developing world faces rapid shifts in urbanization, technology, food processing, and even leisure time, and all these factors contribute to the rise of obesity in these countries, said Barry Popkin of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Popkin suggested that countries still addressing the problems of under-nutrition need to give "far greater emphasis" to the prevention of obesity-related diseases.

Data collected from around the world illustrates how different environmental and cultural conditions contribute to obesity in urban and rural populations. Paradoxically, childhood malnutrition and stunted growth may be found hand-in-hand with adult obesity in many places, said William Leonard of Northwestern University, who studies nu
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Contact: Monica Amarelo
mamarelo@aaas.org
617-236-1550
American Association for the Advancement of Science
16-Feb-2002


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