I’m fat. You’re fat. We’re all getting fat, or so it would seem if you attended the International Conference on Obesity, held every four years, this time in Sydney. An array of drug companies, their sponsored experts and hundreds of delegates from around the world, in particular the developing world, are wined, dined and taught the wonders of treating their patients and clients with expensive medications.  The range of participants is testimony to the ferocious politics surrounding the issue. Reflecting the sponsors, this meeting focuses on market based solutions, offering medications to help individuals overcome their overweight plight.  Conversations overheard dawdling through the conference stalls are eye-opening. A Swiss marketing manager of a major pharmaceutical company chides her Nigerian counterpart for not dealing with the counterfeit drug issue in his country. He answers that it is very difficult to nail down the corrupt senior officials responsible. Furthermore, he says, the people are happier because the drugs are cheaper.  A Kazakh “brand manager” complains to his American counterpart about the growing emphasis on public health promotion in his country. He wonders how this can be curtailed, but the American says it should not be a problem long term. “You Kazakhs are getting rich on oil and that means you’re gonna get fat.”  The women at the Beverage Institute for Health and Wellness, graduates of the Ponds Institute perhaps, lament the demonisation of sugary soft drinks in our puritanical society. The overall feeling is a glimpse of the dark side of globalisation — fierce funding and marketing for market-based solutions increasingly aimed at poor countries who can ill afford them. Obesity is the underbelly of growing prosperity and consumption. While there is a place for medical treatment for severe cases, the need for collective solutions is overwhelming. It is imperative that the better funded calls for minimal regulation and medication based solutions do not mute these urgent voices.   Tanveer Ahmed was the MC for one of the major drug companies involved in the conference. 

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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