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Obesogenic Environments

Written By

Tom Godwin



Posted On

13 January 2014

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We are all well aware of the current rise in obesity levels across the world, this has prompted a wide range of discussions of the possible causes for this epidemic. The truth is that the rise in obesity is multi-factorial and there is not one single reason for the drastic rise in levels of obesity!

In this short article I am going to look at one of the key factors that has been attributed to the rise in levels of obesity… Obesogenic environments. If we first of all look at what an obesogenic environment is, “the phrase Obesogenic environment refers to an environment that promotes gaining weight and one that is not conducive to weight loss within the home or workplace” (Swinburn, et al., 1999).

As the environment that we live in and how we live our lives have drastically changed this has become something of a hot topic, and has formed the basis of a great deal of research internationally over the last few years. The main question the research aims to answer is: are the increased levels of worldwide obesity a product of our environment or not?

This definition promotes the idea that our environment can play a defining role in terms of influencing our chances of weight loss/control/gain. The environment that we live and work in can help or hinder our weight loss efforts. This then leads to the question of if we as a society changed our environment to make healthy choices easier and un-healthy ones harder to make would be see a related drop in the obesity rates?

This then leads to the question of government interventions and if the government would like to create environments that help people to control their weight? Using interventions such as the so-called ‘fast food tax’ on businesses that do not support the healthy eating agenda. Another idea has been tax relief for ‘healthy’ employers who create a healthy environment for both body and mind in the workplace and also have healthy workplace initiatives.

Let’s make this more realistic, if we take an example of an average 35-year-old office worker who is looking to reduce their body fat percentage; let’s call her Jill. Now let’s imagine that this person is a mother and has a partner who is not as interested in health and weight loss as she is.

Jill might find that as much as she tries to buy healthy food and only have food in the house that promotes her weight loss, her partner may not do the same. For example, her partner may come home with a packet of biscuits or a cake, and although her family may not encourage or force Jill to eat them, she may not have the willpower to avoid them.

At work Jill may have a desk job that means she has a low-calorific output. This is often coupled with limited options for healthy snacks on the go or around the office. Most offices have an abundance of unhealthy options in vending machines or canteens, and with the time pressures that the average UK worker has to contend with, will Jill have the chance to venture out to seek healthier options? Not to mention the lack of opportunities for physical activity throughout the day.

Jill may also be using a number of labour-saving devices such as driving to and from work rather than walking. All these things make it harder for Jill to maintain a healthy eating regime and an active lifestyle. Another massive factor is lack of time; this can have a dramatic effect on health behaviour. After a long day at work is Jill going to come home and spend time cooking a healthy meal, or will she be tempted to take the easy option of a take away?

Trying to surround yourself with health and good practice always helps to improve your chances of achieving weight loss. People need a positive and supportive environment with easily accessible opportunities for eating healthily and also engaging in physical activity to maximise their chances of achieving weight loss. This is an important message to pass onto clients, friends and family!

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