Fighting obesityBY PIETRO PAGANINI

Today is World Obesity Day. Obesity is a global problem that affects millions of people around the world and has serious consequences on health, psychological and social life, and the economy. Public policies to combat obesity must address all the involved causes and focus on individual education. They must move beyond ideological approaches and rely on science and technology.

To effectively combat obesity, it is necessary to understand its multiple and complex causes. It is often the result of a combination of factors that vary in each individual: genetic and metabolic factors, poor nutrition or unbalanced diets (calorie excess and nutrient deficiency), bad habits (sedentary lifestyle), psychological problems, and socio-economic factors (economic situation and education level), or use and abuse of drugs. An accurate diagnosis of the causes is essential for treatment and especially for prevention.

Obesity is a global problem that affects many individuals around the world. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), obesity involves over 1 billion people worldwide – 650 million adults, 340 million adolescents, and 39 million children. In Europe, overweight and obesity affect almost 60% of adults and almost one in three children (29% of boys and 27% of girls).


Obesity is a condition in which a person has excess body fat that can have serious consequences on health (cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, musculoskeletal problems, cancer, respiratory problems, etc.), as well as psychological and social life (stigma and social isolation and difficulties in accessing services), and economic life (lower productivity, absenteeism, health and social costs). Obesity can also have a negative impact on national economies. An increase in the obesity rate can lead to an increase in health and social costs, resulting in higher costs for taxpayers and the public health system


It has even been hypothesized that, due to diseases related to obesity, life expectancy for humans is at risk of decreasing rather than increasing.


Therefore, individual and social actions that take into account as many factors as possible are necessary to reduce obesity. For example, limiting intervention to diet (reducing calorie intake or eliminating certain ingredients) is certainly useful but is ineffective and especially illusory. Diet is only part of the wider lifestyle or the more complex genetic and metabolic character that characterizes each individual. 

Public policies to reduce obesity are effective when they comprehensively and targetedly address the multiple causes involved and make each citizen aware of their general conditions (DNA, metabolism, social and psychological status, etc.). To do this, they must necessarily focus on individual education and therefore on the diffusion and maturation of knowledge. Obesity is a social problem because it is primarily an individual problem.


It is surprising that at school, for example, we study everything but learn little or nothing about the energy we need (K/Cal) and the conditions that allow us to live well and better. It is alarming when the European Commission calls for education but only introduces superficial systems (food labeling such as the Nutriscore) as a tool to reduce obesity. By doing so, they demonstrate a lack of understanding of the problem. 


Fortunately, the already advanced research in medical science and particularly genetics will enable each individual to understand their own DNA and therefore their relationship with food within a framework of psychological and social behavior. The same will be done by neuroscience

Technology is providing us with extraordinary diagnostic tools that measure our lifestyle in real time (vital functions, caloric intake and consumption, etc.). Artificial intelligence will help us make conscious choices towards a healthier and more balanced life. 
There is a great opportunity out there to explore, which public policies should invest in. However, these tools can be dangerous if misused, such as access to health data, DNA manipulation, diet and behavior control, etc
We urge Europe, which seems to be more aware and alarmed, to avoid pursuing simplistic and ideological solutions like the Nutriscore and to focus on what science and technology provide us with in a holistic approach with critical and scientific spirit, which is the basis of European culture. Obesity is a social problem, but it is primarily an individual problem. It is free and conscious individuals who will defeat it.

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