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Food Abundance in America: Are We Victims of Our Own Success?

Jun. 9, 2014|315 views
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Food is cheaper and more abundant in America than it's ever been in all of human history. And that could be the most significant factor driving the obesity epidemic, say the authors of a new study. About two-thirds of American adults are overweight or obese, and the numbers have been climbing inexorably for decades. Even children are obese now, and that's an alarming development that troubles health experts. Health care costs are spiraling into the stratosphere and lifestyle diseases such as type 2 diabetes are rampant.

Many reasons have been proposed to explain our expanding waistlines. Most have to do with changes in our habits, such as eating fast food or handy snacks, sitting in front of screens more, walking less, etc. All of these factors may play a role. But the availability of cheap food on an unprecedented scale is the most important factor of all, say researchers in a recent issue of CA: Cancer Journal for Clinicians.

According to a press release issued by the American Cancer Society, the study's authors had this to say about the impact of historically inexpensive food: "Americans are spending a smaller share of their income (or corresponding amount of effort) on food than any other society in history or anywhere else in the world, yet get more for it." This relative cornucopia of abundance is fueling the obesity epidemic, say the study's authors, more than time spent in front of television screens, playing video games, or driving instead of walking.

They offer no easy solutions, only a clearer picture of the problem. They speculate that promoting "positive" messages about eating more whole foods, including fruits and vegetables, may be less effective than exhorting people to eat fewer high-calorie foods with added sugars. Ditching the sugar-sweetened beverages and salted snacks may be the best place to start.

"Examining time trends for which there are data, what jumps out are changes in food availability, in particular the increase in caloric sweeteners and carbohydrates," investigators wrote. How sweet it isn't.

Roland Sturm, Ruopeng An. Obesity and economic environments. CA: CancerJournal for Clinicians, 2014; DOI: 10.3322/caac.21237

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