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Capitalism’s two extremes

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Issue 1687

Obesity and hunger- new report

Capitalism’s two extremes

TOO MUCH junk food in the First World. Not enough food in the Third World. That is the conclusion of a new report which finds that 1.2 billion people in the world are obese and 1.2 billion go hungry every day. For the first time in human history the number of overweight people rivals the number of underweight people.

The world’s underfed population has declined very slightly. But the numbers of those officially classed as obese has surged. Some 23 percent of Americans are now considered obese, and one in five children in the US are classified as overweight. Yet, as the report from Worldwatch in the US says, we live in a world where neither extreme is necessary.

The 20th century should have abolished hunger and malnutrition. But instead, “The century with the greatest potential to eliminate malnutrition instead saw it boosted to record levels. The number of hungry people remains high in a world of food surpluses.” The result is not just an obscene polarisation between the Third World and the First World. Overfed and Underfed: The Global Epidemic of Malnutrition shows hunger and obesity are found simultaneously within countries.

For example, the US Department of Agriculture now estimates that 10 percent of all households in the US are “food insecure”-they go hungry or worry about going hungry. “The hungry and the overweight share high levels of sickness and disability and shortened life expectancies,” says Worldwatch. The high level of obesity is not due to greed.

It is because something as vital as the food that we eat is left in the hands of giant corporations who care nothing for our health and everything for their profits. As a result, people in developed countries like the US and Britain eat terribly unhealthy diets. Giant food companies prefer to spend billions advertising unhealthy food that makes profits rather than educating people about healthy eating. Food is the most heavily advertised commodity in Austria, France, Belgium and the US. More than half of this advertising is for sweets, sweetened breakfast cereals and fast foods.

Monsanto and the other food multi nationals also want to increase their grip over food production in the Third World. And at the same time their allies at the World Bank and in the IMF introduce structural adjustment programmes that make hunger in the Third World worse. This powerful report shows that the crucial divide is between the vast majority of the world’s inhabitants and the tiny minority who sacrifice us all for profit.

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