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www.zidao.com Apprentice harmonizer, for sheer fun. Journeywoman writer, for work and pleasure. Starting point was Iowa, current stopping point on this journey is Switzerland, with frequent pauses around the world to watch and listen to the crowd, and occasionally make comments.

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Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The wide and the narrow of it: on the world's underfed and overfed people

This has completely blown me away - I've been thinking about it all day. It put me right off baking a peach pie, which is probably not the right attitude, but see what you think.

The BBC reports that there are now more obese people in the world than undernourished, and the burden of being overweight is shifting from the relatively wealthy to the world's poor. To put some numbers on it (no, we're not going to add up the world's excess weight here): there are now more than one billion overweight people, compared to 800 million undernourished. The first group is growing more rapidly (apologies: it's a serious subject but inintended jokes are hard to keep out), while the second is falling slowly.

What gives me pause, though, is that obesity is occuring now in poor populations, as people's eating habits change. China is the example provided.

In 1985 I spent three months on a bicycle in China. One of the most striking aspects of China 21 years ago was the quality of the food even in remote country areas. People were thin but generally seemed healthy - a change from the years of famine not long before. We saw one fat person, a boy of 12 who was unpleasant, unhappy and doted on by his adoring and wealthy grandparents. Other people watched with envy: fat meant rich.

I've been back to China twice since then, travelling throughout the country, and I have noticed that not everyone is thin. Those who are thickening around the middle do not appear to be the newly rich, however.

Someone at the conference where this is being discussed has suggested a calorie tax on food. I can't support the idea but it is intriguing.

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