Obesity is not a personal choice

“There is no good food or bad food. There is good diet and bad diet. Consumers should be responsible for their choice of diet.” This is the excuse the president of conMexico used to defense the food and beverage industry. The underlying message is that we are not responsible for obesity epidemic. The people who consume our products are. We try our best to make our products attractive and accessible. If the people consume them and get fat, it’s their own problem. Does that sound reasonable to you?

As I explained in my previous post Obesity and Evolution, we are naturally attracted to high-calorie food. Our body is designed to store fat when food is abundant. We are biologically obese-prone species. Choosing healthy, less calorie-dense food is “unnatural” for us. Most obese people do not want to be obese but the food environment surrounding them leaves them with no choice.

Genetic factors and personal diet choice do play a part but the major driving force of obesity epidemic are the environmental factors. Presence of fast food outlets, junk food in supermarkets, food advertisements on media, food prices are pushing people to choose high-calorie low-nutrient food, leading to over consumption of energy and micro-nutrient deficiency at the same time.

Despite billions of dollars spending on interventions and programs targeting obesity and related chronic conditions, not a single country in the world has successfully abated the surging rate of obesity. Why so? Almost all these programs are focusing on changing consumers’ choice, educating and monitoring them to choose healthy food and do exercise. If consumers’ choice is not the main cause of obesity, changing it will not reverse the trend.

Environmental factors are the ones to target for. Imagine if there is only healthy food in the supermarket, people will not buy packs of coca cola and potato chips back home. If fast food is banned, children will not eat burgers and fried chickens everyday. None of the interventions on consumers’ choice would be as effective as this. Then Why fast food is not banned? Fighting against food industry is not an easy task. The government may suffer huge economic loss and may not gain popularity. Thus they will not take any action unless we, the consumers, push them to do so. 

Obesity is not a personal choice. We should ask for a change in our environment to make it healthy for us and our children. If you are interested in knowing more on this topic, check out this documentary Globesity: Fat’s New Frontier.

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