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Global market policies, fast food driving obesity, suggest researchers

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Fast food restaurant prevalence per capita is driving obesity, says U-M research

Researchers suggest it’s free market policies that may be driving obesity. In a study, the investigators found higher numbers of fast food restaurants in a given populated area is linked to obesity rates. Since the advent of trade liberalization policies in the 1980's, there are more restaurants that serve high calorie fast foods, which also correlates with obesity trends; seen primarily in wealthier countries.

The researchers, from University of Michigan, say it comes as no surprise that countries like the UK, New Zealand, Canada and the United States have the highest rates of obesity, which also correlates with liberal global market trade policies.

The study, led by Roberto De Vogli, associate professor in the U-M School of Public Health, revealed that Japan, has 0.13 fast food restaurants per 100,000 people, and Norway has 0.19 restaurants per capita.

In the U.S. and Canada, fast food restaurant prevalence is approximately 7.5 per 100,000 people.

Obesity rates in Japan for men is 2.9 percent and for women 3.3%. In Norway, the percentage of obese individuals is 6.4 percent and 5.9 percent respectively for men and women.

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U.S. and Canadian men and women’s obesity rates are 31.3 percent and 33.2 percent in the U.S. and 23.2 percent and 22.9 percent in Canada, when you compare to Japan and Norway with fewer fast food restaurants.

"In my opinion the public debate is too much focused on individual genetics and other individual factors, and overlooks the global forces in society that are shaping behaviors worldwide. If you look at trends overtime for obesity, it's shocking," De Vogli said.

He adds there is a direct correlation between transnational trade liberalization policies and obesity. He says, “There is no biological, genetic, psychological or community level factor” that can explain tripled and quadruple obesity prevalence since the 1980’s when fast food restaurants that typically sell high calorie hamburgers, fries and soft drinks started popping up in abundance.

The paper, "Globesization: ecological evidence on the relationship between fast food outlets and obesity among 26 advanced economies," is published in the December print issue of Critical Public Health.

The authors suggest it may be liberal market policies that has given rise to high numbers of fast food restaurants per capita that is driving obesity rates, versus genetic, psychological or other factors that receive much research focus. The finding is worth more investigation. For this study,the researchers adjusted for income, urban areas, access to transportation and internet use per capita.

Critical Public Health
" ‘Globesization’: ecological evidence on the relationship between fast food outlets and obesity among 26 advanced economies"
Roberto De Vogli et al.
December 7, 2011

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