This week (October 15−19) is World Obesity Awareness Week. Obesity is a global health problem that has been steadily increasing over the past few years affecting a substantial proportion of men, women, and – most shockingly – children. With the convenience of fast-food restaurants and the higher price of healthy food, the question must be asked: how does society influence the spread of obesity?

According to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), many people who earn a lower income are malnourished but also obese.  This is because people are often more concerned with getting the most for their money, regardless of the nutritional value of their food choices. For example, the fast food industry offers discounted menu items, for as little as one dollar, on a variety of foods that are loaded with saturated fat and sodium. Many fast food restaurants have healthier food choices available, but these are offered at a higher price.  Healthy eating campaigns can fail to achieve noticeable results among people in lower income brackets due to educational and language barriers.

These nutrition issues can – to a lesser degree – also affect middle-class and budgeting families who may not be able to consistently afford the cost of healthier food. While access to specialty supermarkets or farmer’s markets is common in higher income neighborhoods and these offer a greater variety of healthy foods, it comes at a higher price that may not be within reach. Restaurants too are now offering healthier options, but these can also cost more. For example, you can order pasta and request wholewheat, but for an extra cost.

In addition to economic factors, coercive pressure from friends, coworkers and family members may also lead to poor eating decisions. There are multiple opportunities to select unhealthy foods throughout the day, whether it’s at home, the workplace, school, or out and about.1 Choosing a healthy option one time may be relatively simple, but changing a behavior that has multiple hurdles and challenges surrounding it throughout the day is something else entirely.

Overall, society needs to address the current food manufacturing practices that allow unhealthy, cheaply manufactured foods to be sold to the masses at reduced cost. An assessment of society’s influence of unhealthy lifestyles may be the first step in battling the worldwide spread of obesity seen today.

This is only the beginning of the fight against obesity. Stay tuned for our next blog “Fighting Obesity” for tips on the benefits of healthy eating, physical exercise, and the rise of pharmacological treatments available to help beat obesity.

Josephine Di Laura

References:

1)      The Obesity Prevention Source. Available at: http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/obesity-prevention-source/obesity-causes/food-environment-and-obesity/. Accessed July 20, 2012.