I always say that a surrounding enabling environment must be created to encourage sustained behavioral change. To achieve the desired behavior, four main elements need to be integrated to create an enabling environment that constitutes the right support structure. The four elements are:
- Communication: Disseminate key concepts and messages
- Access: Ensure availability of healthy products and sports facilities
- Political Environment: Establish policy and guidelines
- Motivation (Promotion): Present incentives for change
And it is finally happening! The World Health Organization (WHO) is urging governments to step in and regulate the fast food market. They justify this call for action by the findings of a study they made in 25 high-income countries between 1999 and 2008 comparing the number of fast food transactions with body mass index (BMI). “BMI is a number calculated from a person’s weight and height and provides a reliable indicator of body fatness for most people”. (CDC)
The study suggests that “while the average number of annual fast food transactions increased from 26.61 to 32.76 per person, average BMI increased from 25.8 to 26.4. The sharpest gains were in Canada, Australia, Ireland and New Zealand, while the lowest were in countries with more stringent market regulation – such as Italy, the Netherlands, Greece and Belgium”, as reported in the February WHO Bulletin.
“Unless governments take steps to regulate their economies, the invisible hand of the market will continue to promote obesity worldwide with disastrous consequences for future public health and economic productivity,” said Roberto De Vogli of the department of Public Health Sciences at the University of California, Davis, in the United States, who led the study. He also added that “the take-home message is that, although free-market policies are not to be demonized, it appears quite clear that in order to fight the obesity epidemic, a stronger role of government intervention is necessary”.
Obesity is a worldwide epidemic and is no longer an individual problem. Societies and governments suffer a concealed economic burden of obesity. These economic consequences affect employment, productivity, diminished opportunities, and have substantial and costly implications for health service capacities and social and economic infrastructure.
Prevention is the key strategy for reversing the current trend of obesity and involves improving eating habits and increasing physical exercise. There have been and there still are a lot of initiatives, programs, campaigns and not for profit organizations trying to fight obesity by promoting a healthy life style. But it seems it is not enough. The obesity epidemic is nevertheless on the rise.
Therefore, I’m very excited about WHO’s report and look forward to some political changes to “make fast food less attractive”. Some people however disagree with this call for action and consider it a violation of any country’s right to a free economy. Where do you stand?
CDC (2013). Healthy Weight – it’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle!. Retrieved 17 February 2014 from CDC: http://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/assessing/bmi/
FOX, MAGGIE (2014). Study Shows Exactly How Fast Food Packs on Pounds. Retrieved 11 February 2014 from NBC News: http://www.nbcnews.com/health/diet-fitness/study-shows-exactly-how-fast-food-packs-pounds-n20351
Fox News (2014). Lack of regulation of fast food fueling obesity epidemic, study says. Retrieved 11 February 2014 from Fox News: http://www.foxnews.com/health/2014/02/03/lack-of-regulation-of-fast-food-fueling-obesity-epidemic-study-says/
Vogli, Roberto De and Gimenoc, Anne Kouvonenb & David Gemeno(2014). The influence of market deregulation on fast food consumption and body mass index: a cross-national time series analysis. Retrieved 11 February 2014 from WHO: http://www.who.int/bulletin/volumes/92/2/13-120287/en/index.html