The Global Syndemic 2020
One year ago, the Lancet Commission on Obesity published its seminal report, The Global Syndemic of Obesity, Undernutrition and Climate Change. Today, the report remains impactful and more relevant than ever. As we continue to see the effects of climate change and malnutrition in all its forms, we should be reminded that we can mitigate these issues with systemic changes if we act now.
The Commission began by reframing the problem of obesity, which we know has been rising worldwide. Evidence-based recommendations to reduce obesity have not been successfully implemented due to policy inertia. Like climate change, obesity is an insidious problem that many view as also not sufficiently urgent enough to demand action.
When we view obesity in the same framework as undernutrition and climate change, it becomes clear that these issues influence each other. Fortunately, this framework also allows us to consider double-duty or triple-duty actions that can benefit some or all of these related problems. Changes in agriculture, transportation, and food production have the potential to increase the health of both the population and the planet.
Policy shifts, like sustainable dietary guidelines, could impact human health, nutrition, and climate change (Figure 1). Unfortunately, in 2015 the Dietary Guidelines for Americans did not consider sustainability, despite the recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee and health researchers.
Both human health and the health of the planet are declining. The last ten years have been recognized as the hottest decade on record. Despite the climate change advocacy of this past year, U.S. policies have not changed to favor action. Climate activist Greta Thunberg was announced as Time’s Person of the Year, but the U.S. is still set to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement in November. The wildfires that have raged in Australia, facilitated by record-setting heat and drought, have affected agriculture and have also affected drinking water. Infrastructure is destroyed and lives are impacted or lost. Carbon emitted from the wildfires contributes to climate change, perpetuating the cycle.
As we enter 2020 we can begin to change our climate-related practices and work to implement these double- and triple-duty policy-level changes. We need to see obesity and climate change as urgent issues and demand action. The future depends on it.