Almost 800 million people are obese and over 40 million children under-five are overweight, the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) said on World Food Day.

Avoid eating food high in starch, sugar, fats and salt. This, coupled with a sedentary lifestyle, is a recipe for soaring global obesity rates, the FAO said.

The trend occurs even in countries where many still suffer from hunger.

The health costs of unhealthy eating habits are estimated at around $2 trillion per year.  Unhealthy eating habits are the leading cause of diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers.

Overweight

Vivienne is only 16 but she looks older because she is overweight. She confesses her love for high-fat and high-sugar food, fresh milk and salted food. “My coffee must have too much sugar. And I cannot stay away for food that has too much salt and oil in it,” she told Plus Size Africa Magazine.

“Maybe that’s really going to kill me. I also have a sweet tooth and drink plenty of milk. I’m already like this, what should I care?”

Obesity rates are rapidly increasing in Africa, the World Health Organization WHO) said. Overweight and obesity, particularly in urban settings, are major risk factors for type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attacks and a variety of cancers, it explained.

“There is a common misconception that obesity and other noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) only occur among the wealthy. Poorer populations are experiencing high double-burdens of infectious and chronic diseases. Sub-Saharan women are far more likely to be obese than men. This affects women’s health issues, pregnancy, maternal and infant health.”

Healthy diets

Vivienne’s “don’t care” attitude towards unhealthy food is typical of obese people’s low esteem. However, changing eating habits and workouts can help them feel good about themselves.

Therefore, the UN food agency called for urgent action to make healthy, sustainable diets affordable and accessible for all. The shift away from seasonal, mainly plant-based and fibre-rich food has occurred in recent decades, as a result of globalisation, urbanisation and growth in income.

Busy consumers

This is a result of busy consumers in urban areas who find less time to cook at home. They then rely increasingly on fast-food outlets, street food vendors and take-away meals.

“Everyone can play their part in promoting healthy diets and achieving the UN’s goal of zero hunger by 2030. Farmers, and others who work in agriculture, can spread their knowledge, and traditional, sustainable practices,” the UN said.

“Governments can make savings by cutting food-related health problems.  The private sector can also make a difference by reducing the amount of harmful ingredients in their products.”

Current methods of food consumption and production not only impact on health, but also has affect climate change. There is a crucial need to transform food systems in order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the UN said.