Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Feeding the hungry not the obese

        I was hungry and you fed me. 
        I was thirsty and you gave me a drink.
        I was homeless and you gave me a room.
        I was shivering and you gave me clothes.
        I was sick and you stopped to visit.
        I was in prison and you came to me.
            (Matthew 25:35 -- The Message)

An article in The Toronto Star the other day informed me that four years after the earthquake in Haiti many people are still suffering from hunger in spite of all the aid that has flooded into that devastated country.

From another source I learned that the US has the highest obesity rate of 22 industrialized countries in the world. I find it difficult to put these facts together. How is this possible?

But these facts have prompted me to reflect on them in this post and to try to make some sense out of them.

Let us look at some facts and statistics, starting with hunger: About 13.1 percent of the world’s population is hungry every day. That is roughly 925 million people who are undernourished, meaning they consume less than 2,100 calories on a daily basis. Yet the world produces enough food to feed all 7.1 billion who live on it.

Poverty is the main cause of hunger; hunger in turn is a cause of poverty. When people are malnourished, they lose the mental resources to be productive members of society. When a mother is undernourished during pregnancy, the baby is often born undernourished as well.

Nearly 98 percent of worldwide hunger exists in underdeveloped countries. And hunger is often passed from mother to child. Each year, 17 million children are born underweight because their mothers are malnourished.
Almost 1 in every 15 children in developing countries dies from hunger. More than 20,000 children die every day from hunger.

The total number of hungry people in the world is slowly dropping, but there is still a long way to go. Even one hunger-related death, however, is one death too many.

Hunger has been defined as the want or scarcity of food whether in a country or the world. The related term, malnutrition, refers to the lack of some or all nutritional elements necessary for human health, whether that is proteins or micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals.

The world produces enough food to feed everyone. No one needs to go hungry or suffer from malnutrition. There is enough to provide everyone in the world with at least 2,720 calories per day. In spite of a 70 per cent increase in the world population in the last 30 years, the world produces 17 percent more calories per person. The principal problem is that many people in the world do not have enough land to grow, or income to purchase, enough food. 

There are many reasons why people go hungry. Poverty is only one. The underlying cause of hunger and poverty is the economic and political systems of the world.  The control over resources and income is based on military, political and economic power that typically ends up in the hands of a minority who live very well, while those at the bottom barely survive, if they do.

Climate change is increasingly viewed as a cause of hunger and poverty. Increasing drought, flooding, and changing climatic patterns require a shift in crops and farming practices that may not be easily accomplished, especially in parts of the world where traditional farming methods are the only ones people know.

Conflict is another cause of hunger. In Syria millions have been forced into poverty and hunger because of the ongoing civil war. The same thing has happened in other conflict zones. That alone would be a good reason to end all wars.

Next a definition of obesity: an obese person is one with a body mass index (BMI) over 30 kg/m2.
BMI is defined as the weight in kilograms divided by the square of the height in meters (kg/m2). Globally, there are more than 1 billion overweight adults, at least 300 million of them clinically obese.

Obesity rates that have risen three-fold or more since 1980 in some areas of North America, the United Kingdom, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, the Pacific Islands, Australasia and China. Economic growth, modernization, urbanization and globalization of food markets are just some of the forces thought to underlie the epidemic.  Two-thirds of Americans over age 20 are overweight and nearly one-third of them are obese.

Overweight and obesity lead to adverse metabolic effects on blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides and insulin resistance. Approximately 85% of people with diabetes are type 2, and of these, 90% are obese or overweight. A raised BMI also increases the risks of cancer of the breast, colon, prostate, endometroium, kidney and gallbladder.

A combination of excessive food intake and a lack of physical activity explains most cases of obesity, but only a few cases are due to genetics, medical reasons, or  psychiatric illness. The increasing rates of obesity in the world are due to diet, and the increased reliance on cars.

A recent study in Toronto showed a high correlation between obesity rates and mobility. People who lived in neighborhoods where they could easily walk to stores and services had lower obesity rates than those who needed to use cars to get around. The map below illustrates which areas in Toronto are the most walkable and which the least. Not surprisingly, the urban core is the most walkable.

Other studies have shown that obesity is closely related to the amount of time spent in front of the TV. Again, the issue of mobility, or the lack thereof, contributes to obesity. Most Africans and Asians walk everywhere and are very active when they work, in contrast to many Europeans and North Americans.

In terms of diet, Americans in 2003 consumed 3,754 per person. While during roughly the same period Europeans used 3,394 calories; in the developing areas of Asia, 2,648 calories; and in sub-Saharan Africa people had 2,176 calories per person, which is at the bottom end of the recommended food intake.

Total calorie consumption was found to be closely related to obesity, which is not surprising when Americans consume nearly twice as many calories as most Africans. Yet even in Africa the obesity rate is growing as people become wealthier and can buy more food. 

In my travels in Africa I discovered more and more fast food outlets. Many of these outlets are indigenous, but that does not make them better than the multinationals.

Because of the high calorie consumption elsewhere in the world, obesity is seen as a sign of wealth and well-being in many parts of Africa. Similarly, in Asia wealth and obesity and often associated, so much so that in many Filipino languages the same word.is used for both. To say someone is fat is therefore a compliment.
Feeding the hungry is a biblical command, but we must do so not just because God commands us to do that. We must do so out of love for our neighbor, whether that neighbor lives nearby or far away. It is a tragedy that four years after the earthquake in Haiti many people are still hungry there. There is no excuse for that! Not after all the aid that has flooded that country. 

There is enough food produced in the world to provide adequate nourishment to every person on this globe. Instead, the richest countries use unproductive methods to grow food and they waste much of it. Moreover, they eat the wrong types of food -- food that make them obese. 

Let us stop feeding the obese and instead feed the hungry! 

Remember, we are God's hands and feet. He uses us to feed those who are hungry in this world.

Jesus threatens those who refuse to feed the hungry with eternal punishment, but he also promises to bless those who provide for those in need. I realize that it is difficult to legislate good eating habits and sufficient exercise, but if we, as Europeans and North Americans, do not change our lifestyles, not only will we suffer from obesity-related diseases but we will also condemn many more people in the underdeveloped countries to a lifetime of malnourishment and to an early death.

 Is that what you wish to happen? Probably not! Let us each begin by changing our own lifestyles. I try to walk 3 - 5 km per day. Let us also try to eat better foods. 

Cooking with freshly prepared ingredients was something our family learned in the Philippines and in Africa. Slow food, not fast food, is our preference. I hope it is yours as well.

I also invite you to share your surplus food with those in need. That can be done most efficiently through NGOs that have the ability to distribute food where needed. In addition, governments should be encouraged to assist by providing matching grants to these NGOs. Canada has done this in many crises.

Sad to say, these efforts were not enough in Haiti. Greed and corruption prevented that. May God punish those who commit such crimes against humanity!

But most important governments should promote better more active lifestyles. There is, of course, much more that governments can through legislation to reduce obesity. The savings will be enormous!

So get off your fanny and start walking, jogging, or whatever other form of exercise you prefer. You will be healthier as a result. But keep the hungry of the world in mind while you are doing this. Make sure they get something to eat. 

Is that too much to ask? I could write a lot more, but this is all that my blog permits, since this post is already too long. God invites us to share what he has so abundantly provided us with. We are stewards, after all, of God's creation. Let us take good care of it and share it. 

This includes taking care of our bodies. It also includes making it possible for who are hungry get something to eat.  "I was hungry and you fed me." 


  1. I appreciate with your this post.Its seems looking so good.
    global warming

  2. People are becoming fat because of not following a healthy life style. America has more overweight people than any other country. Only if they leave eating junk food and do more physical activities then they can decrease their weight which has gone upto dangerous level.