Brazil, China, and India Are Fat, And Getting Fatter

In addition to infrastructure, the BRICS need to focus on healthcare spending. They fail to address their obesity rates that their peril.
Chinese KFC banner.jpg
People stand in front of a poster for a KFC and Pizza Hut in Guangzhou, capital of south China's Guangdong province, on April 2, 2007. (Joe Tan/Reuters)

In China, the growth rate of new Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants is 13 percent a year, compared with 2.9 percent in the U.S. And as the chain has expanded, so have Chinese citizens' waistlines. Recently, the aspiring BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) met in sunny Durban, South Africa, for their fifth summit to discuss their plans for creating their proposed BRICS Development Bank (BDB). Despite ongoing doubts that these nations will be able to quickly come to an agreement over where and how the bank will function, there is hope that these differences can be overcome.

But there is one issue that the BRICS leaders seemed to have overlooked. That is, how will the BRICS bank address these nations' ongoing struggle to contain the spread of disease? Diseases commonly attributed to economic wealth and prosperity, such as obesity and diabetes, are on the rise and will inevitably threaten their bristling economies should the BDB fail to adequately invest in healthcare infrastructure.

The proposed BDB bank is mainly focused on providing loans and grants - approximately $4.5 trillion in total - to finance infrastructural development projects in the BRICS and other developing nations. This funding will be used to construct railroads, bridges, highways, and ports. Created as an alternative " Bretton Woods for the developing nations," loans will be provided at favorable lending terms. The bank will also provide a currency reserve of $100 billion dollars to be used in times of economic crisis. Another implicit goal through this banking endeavor is to decrease the BRICS and other developing nations' ongoing reliance on the World Bank and IMF for financial assistance while creating a lending facility that better understands developing nations' context and needs.

Unfortunately, however, at the fifth summit the BRICS failed to come to terms on how and when the BDB will be established. Differences over how much these nations will contribute to the bank's initial deposit; disagreements over who will lead the BDB - with China striving to take control though greater financial contributions ; differences in domestic political structures, cultures, and foreign policy views; as well as contestation over where the BDB will open shop has concerned many that it may take time for bank operations to begin.

But these nations share a deeper historical interest that may help to overcome these differences. Since the early-20th century, political leaders in all of these nations have aspired to engage in international cooperation, both for the establishment of peace but also for the creation of multilateral institutions, such as the United Nations and the World Health Organization. Through these endeavors and others, the BRICS found common ground in striving to increase their international reputation as nations that mattered in the world; as nations that could make a difference.

The BRICS leaders see the BDB as an opportunity to achieve these foreign policy objectives. President Vladimir Putin of Russia has viewed the BDB as a key "cooperative mechanism" in helping transform the old system of international finance and to bolster the emerging nation's influence in this realm. All of the BRICS leaders also agree that the BDB will help to magnify their voice within key multilateral lending agencies, such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund .

While these geopolitical incentives may help to facilitate agreements to finalize the BDB, and while their certainly is wide-spread agreement that the endeavor can strengthen infrastructural investment and economic growth, one key issue seems to have been overlooked: Health.

Presented by

Eduardo J. Gómez

Eduardo J. Gómez is a writer and professor in London.

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