The Obesity Blame Game: Is Fast Food Really at Fault?
As the obesity epidemic grows in scope, so too does the "blame game." Lack of exercise, over-consumption of food, sedentary work environments, lifestyle choices, biological predispositions, genes...the list of possible culprits for America's fatness goes on. Fast food is a common target. Earlier this month, an advocacy group launched a campaign petitioning 26 hospitals across the country to remove a major fast food restaurant from their cafeterias with the aim of sending a "better message" to consumers. Some of the reasoning behind the group's initiative comes from a 2006 study published in the journal Pediatrics that concluded that allowing fast food centers to operate in hospitals not only affects guests' consumption of fast food on the day of their visit, but also unintentionally boosts the perception of the "healthfulness" of fast food in general. Here's more research that supports the initiative:
- The prevalence of obesity-related diseases has risen sharply over the past thirty years, and the number of fast food restaurants in America has more than doubled over the same period (The National Bureau of Economic Research).
- Studies have shown that "consumption of fast food among children in the US seems to have an adverse effect on dietary quality in ways that plausibly could increase risk for obesity."
- Studies have shown that increased proximity to fast food restaurants is linked to an increase in obesity.
So being near to fast food increases the likelihood of obesity, but will removing fast food from hospitals (and other institutions and neighborhoods) help solve the problem? Consider this:
- The New York Times recently reported that studies have shown that "there is no relationship between the type of food being sold in a neighborhood and obesity among its children and adolescents."
- Restrictive "diets" and the "diet mentality" in general do not lead to long-term effective weight-loss. What does work, according to a recent study by the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, is eating less fat, exercising more, using prescription weight loss medications, or participating in commercial weight loss programs.
- Calling for removal of fast food from hospitals sends the message that fast food restaurants are "bad" and can be blamed for obesity, lessening personal responsibility for our own health.
Blaming fast food restaurants for obesity can place us on a slippery slope. Should we remove buses from our streets to force people to choose the less convenient, but "healthier" walking or biking options? After all, sitting for long periods of time is correlated with obesity, and most adults do not get the recommended level of exercise. Similarly, while we should limit consumption of fast food, we can't eliminate it from the American diet as long as there is a demand for convenient, inexpensive, and (arguably) tasty food. We need to improve health through education and develop incentives that encourage healthy lifestyle decisions, proper nutrition, and exercise. Perhaps a partnership between hospitals and Weight Watchers (or other proven commercial weight loss programs), or the establishment of walking groups or active events within hospital walls, could promote lasting change. We won't make any progress in the fight against obesity by playing the blame game at the expense of taking responsibility for our health into our own hands.
What do you think? Will restricting fast food lead to a decrease in obesity? How can we as individuals, families, and institutions promote a healthier America?