"Globesity": when obesity becomes a global epidemics

"Globesity": when obesity becomes a global epidemics

May 09, 2018

"Globesity": when obesity becomes a global epidemics

A journey that already covered three continents to document the causes and consequences of excessive food through the lens of an Italian photographer's camera. 

It begins in Italy, then travels to Mexico and then all the way down to South Africa the photo report by Silvia Landi, psychologist e psychotherapist, but also photographer and winner  – with her photo work – of the 2017 Food Sustainability Media Award promoted by the Thomson Reuters Foundation and BCFN. 

The title of her winning project leaves no room for doubt: “Globesity” is the term used, in the last few years, to describe the global obesity epidemics that is rapidly spreading well beyond the borders of the western world. As shown by a research published in 2016 on  The Lancet medical journal, within a few decades, we moved from a world where underweight people were more than double the number of obese individuals, to one where the obese outnumber the underweight. And we should not forget that hunger and obesity are two sides of the same coin, both linked to malnutrition and to the first of the three food paradoxes described by BCFN.

After painstaking research and a long period spent 'on the field', Silvia Landi managed to capture some of the most significant aspects of this issue in her photos. 

How did you get the idea of a photo survey on obesity?

The Globesity project is actually the spin off of a previous project, which followed Giovanni, a man suffering from serious obesity, for over three years. In that case, I wanted to report the psychological and more intimate sides of the problem. I had already realized that the world of photography had spoken a great deal about the opposite food-linked  excess - anorexia - but very little was said about obesity, perhaps because obesity is not yet associated to an actual population disease, despite the voice of the experts. I wanted to raise awareness on this theme with my work. I hope that whoever looks at my images will begin asking questions, even though I cannot claim to have the answer. 

What were the different stages of this journey to the heart of obesity?

As is often the case with this kind of projects, almost 90 per cent of the time is taken by research: only when the various aspects of the chosen theme become clear, and how to approach it, you can finally take your camera and move from theory to practice. The photo is the final act of a very long research process. During my research, I understood that in order to get people to know my work, I needed a change in perspective: from a local look at a single individual, to a wider vision touching several continents and different people, exactly as obesity does. This led me to decide not to restrict myself to countries that we normally associate with excessive food (and weight), like the United States, for example, and instead reach 'unsuspectable' countries like Mexico or South Africa.  

What messages and what differences come out of the the various countries visited in the report? 


One of my first insights was to realize that the causes of obesity vary with different countries, and in developing nations poverty and globalization lie at the root of the problem. We lost local traditions in favor of imported foods, cheaper but also clearly not too healthy, because they are rich in fats, refined flours, sugar and calories. Let us not forget that access to healthy food and clean water cannot be taken for granted in the South of the world, and actually in some countries it is easier to find a sugary drink, than a glass of drinkable water. 

What are the obstacles to fighting obesity in different contexts? 

In addition to the more practical problems of poverty and access to healthy food which I already mentioned, there are many cultural and social obstacles. In Africa, for example, excessive weight is viewed positively, as a sign of prosperity, while in Mexico excessive weight is so common that people do not even realize that they are overweight: if every one is overweight, this becomes the new normal. 

Is this the end of this project, or should we expect further developments?

The project is a work in progress. Compared to the version that won the Food Sustainability Media Award, there is now a new part, and I would like to reach Brazil next, where the situation appears to be complex, especially because of the very aggressive marketing policies of several food companies. The Thomson Reuters Foundation-BCFN prize has been my first significant achievement, a platform that made my work popular. What picture would you like to add? One that can capture the 'double burden' food paradox, that is, the simultaneous presence of malnutrition and obesity in society, in a family and therefore in a photo. 

Photo by Silvia Landi, winner of the 2017 edition of the Food Sustainability Media Award for the "photo unpublished" category

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