Sunday, October 2, 2011


Recent UN consultation meeting at New York deliberated on the urgent need to address the serious problem that confronts many countries, especially those with high wealth, in the form of rampaging epidemic of obesity. No country in the world would like to see its citizens increasingly looking like aliens from another planet with gross over weight and distorted body shape roaming all around, many of them suffering from multiple health disorders with serious consequences. One of the suggestions gaining ground is for individual countries to evolve a fiscal policy that will make "bad" foods very expensive. Of course opinions may differ regarding what constitutes a bad food but more or less there is unanimity that foods high in sugar, fat and salt are to be shunned if good health is to be maintained. The basis of fiscal initiative suggested is that costlier a product lesser will be the demand for it. Logically this may be true but according to a new study just published no single factor is responsible for the perpetuation of obesity and food alone cannot be blamed. Here is a take on this interesting finding.

"Using government body mass index data spanning a 27-year period, we analyzed multiple potential factors in the recent rise in American obesity, including food prices, physical activity at work, restaurant prevalence, urbanization, employment, and cigarette smoking. Based on the current conventional wisdom, you might guess that food prices or restaurant prevalence would affect obesity most. But among the variables we studied, the most significant factor in BMI increases was the decline in smoking. This makes sense: Cigarettes are an appetite inhibitor. This single greatest factor, however, still accounted for a very small share of the rise in obesity, about 2 percent. Obesity is also linked to urban sprawl, not surprisingly: More driving means less walking. Occupational fitness is another factor: More time sitting at a desk means fewer calories burned. Neither of these plays a large role either, though. Urban sprawl accounted for only 0.7 percent of the rise in BMI, occupational fitness 0.5 percent. And fast-food prices, grocery prices, and restaurant prevalence were all statistically insignificant. In other words, there's no one or two central causes of rising obesity. Philadelphia officials aren't wrong to be concerned about obesity. The obesity rate citywide is 40 percent, and 17 percent among high school students, according to Temple University. But our results indicate that antiobesity public policies are generally of limited utility. Besides soda, activists have accused corner stores and fast food of contributing to a "toxic food environment." Yet fast-food prices, grocery prices, and restaurant prevalence all registered statistically insignificant effects in our study".

The above report still does not absolve food from its over riding influence on weight gain and the scientific findings that net weight gain is caused by consuming calories more than required by the body for a given environment of living is indisputable. People should be aware of the bitter truth that body's energy need is governed by its need to perform the daily task of an individual while health can suffer from inadequate physical activity. Ultimately it comes down to one's "will power" to control food intake and this is governed by the environmental variations. It is believable that urge to eat or getting satiety from a given diet needs to be "managed" if weight gain is to be avoided. If it is agreed that eating too much food is a disease, those who indulge in it need to be treated as a patient requiring the attention of both psychologists and physicians!


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