The obesity epidemic, which is linked to the rise in diabetes, is largely driven by the twin trends of changing dietary patterns and decreasing physical activity. Most countries in the Americas are experiencing a shift in dietary patterns toward increased consumption of energy-dense foods, rich in saturated fat, sugars, and salt. This pattern, coupled with the fact that 30 to 60% of the population does not meet minimum recommended levels of physical activity (e.g., 30 minutes walking per day) contribute in large part to the high rates of overweight persons and obesity in the Region.
Adults are considered overweight if they have a body mass index (BMI) between 25 kg/m2 and 29.9 Kg/m2 and considered obese if their BMI is above 30 Kg/m2. Research has demonstrated a strong and consistent link between obesity and diabetes; increases in BMI are associated with increased risk for diabetes and abdominal obesity has emerged as a strong predictor of diabetes.
Environmental changes are the major contributors to the aforementioned changes in diet and physical activity patterns. A combination of government policies, regional and global market forces, inadequate response to changing demographic patterns, technological advances that precipitate behavior and lifestyle changes, and lack of awareness and action by civil society are key factors leading to the rising epidemics of obesity and diabetes. However, the strong social and environmental determinants of obesity and ill health provide an important area for intervention with strong evidence-based data to guide action.