10 July 2013

Socioeconomic Factors and Food Industry Practices Major Influence to Prevalence of Obesity

A video released by Academic Earth (embedded below) focuses on the economic cost of obesity. James Hill, director of the Center of Human Nutrition at Colorado Health Sciences University, believes that socioeconomic class a more accurate predictor for obesity than biological and genetic factors. Policies such as food subsidies, have had a direct role in driving the obesity crisis.

A study by Eric Finkelstein, Ph.D., associate research professor in the Duke Global Health Institute and Deputy Director in the Health Services Research Program at Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School in Singapore, shows that by 2030, 42% of the U.S. population could be obese by 2030 and would translate to around $550 billion in medical spending over the next twenty years.


Obesity is a disorder where a person has too much body fat. It is a medical condition that can lead to a reduction in the quality of life and more serious disorders such as diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease. Obesity starts when the regular calorie intake of a person is more than what the body burns. The unused calories are stored as fat by the body.

The Body Mass Index (BMI) is often used as a measuring stick to determine if a person is obese. The BMI is calculated by dividing the person's kilogram weight by the square of the height in meters (kg/m2). A person with a BMI from 30 to 25 is considered overweight. A BMI of above 30 is obese and a BMI of 40 or higher is qualified as morbid obesity.

Psychological factors, contrary to popular belief, have little influence over obesity. There is no conscious choice for a person to be obese. Changes in the environment where food is readily available and physical activities are diminished are the primary factors driving the prevalence of obesity.

Factors contributing to the prevalence of obesity are:
  • A history of eating and dietary behavior
  • Easy access to food combined with minimal physical activity
  • Unhealthy diet
  • Less physical activity at work
  • Lack of time to exercise

Health Crisis

"The obesity crisis is made worse by the way industry formulates and markets its products and so must be regulated to prevent excesses and to protect the public good," writes Kelly Brownell from the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University.

Video: The Economic Cost of Obesity

According to her, the food industry "... must defend its core practices against all threats, produce short-term earnings, and in so doing, sell more food. If it distorts science, creates front groups to do its bidding, compromises scientists, professional organizations, and community groups with contributions, blocks needed public health policies in the service of their goals, or engages in other tactics in ''the corporate playbook,'' this is what is takes to protect business as usual."

According to USPIRG.org “In 2011, over $1.28 billion in taxpayer subsidies went to junk food ingredients, bringing the total to $18.2 billion since 1995... In contrast, only $637 million has gone to subsidies for apples since 1995...”

Controlling Obesity - A Multisectoral Responsibility

Dr Jamie Pearce, of the University of Edinburgh's School of GeoSciences, co-editor of the book 'Geographies of Obesity', writes that governments should contribute to control obesity. He urges governments to institute food subsidies for healthy foods, much like those given to food industries. He also notes that authorities at an international, national and local level can help alleviate this rising epidemic by instituting simple practices such as encouraging and opening access to healthy food, creating parks and recreational facilities, as well as promoting healthy dietary behaviors and an active lifestyle.

In the medical field, research is ongoing to reduce and control obesity. Studies such as identifying the SFRP5 molecule as a factor in accumulating fat in the body, the use of bariatric surgery to address the problem, and even using the JH17 and JH18 somatostatin vaccine to reduce weight gain are major steps in treating this disorder.

There is even a study by George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services (SPHHS) suggesting that video games can actually boost energy expenditures among inner city children (a group that is at high risk for unhealthy weight gain) and minimize the occurrence of obesity.


The Economic Cost of Obesity
Geographies of Obesity: Environmental Understandings of the Obesity Epidemic
Obesity and Severe Obesity Forecasts Through 2030
Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University
Duke Global Health Institute
George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services
Obesity Crisis Made Worse By Food Industry Policies and Practices
SFRP5 Molecule Identified As A Factor In Accumulating Fat In The Body
Food Insecurity, Fear of Not Enough Food, May Lead To Obesity
Countryside Folk More Likely To Be More Obese Than City Dwellers
Video Games Are Now Tools In Fighting Childhood Obesity
New Vaccines Based on Stomatostatin To Promote Weight Loss