Surging Food Supply Linked to Global Obesity Epidemic
Boost in available calories comes largely from ultra-processed, inexpensive foods, expert says
WEDNESDAY, July 1, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- The global obesity epidemic is linked to an oversupply of food available for human consumption, a new study suggests.
There are enough extra calories available to explain the weight gain reported in many countries around the world, the researchers found.
"Much of the increase in available calories over the decades has come from ultra-processed food products, which are highly palatable, relatively inexpensive and widely advertised, making overconsumption of calories very easy," study author Stefanie Vandevijvere, a senior research fellow in global health and food policy at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, said in a World Health Organization news release.
These findings suggest government officials need to implement policies that will result in a healthier food supply and reduced rates of obesity.
In conducting the study, researchers examined increases in the global food supply -- also called the food energy supply -- and the rising rates of obesity. They included information from 69 countries that ranged from high- to low-income.
They compared information from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization database with the average adult body weight from various databases, including the World Health Organization global database on body mass index (BMI) between 1971 and 2010.
Countries' food supplies are estimated by balancing imports, local production and country-wide stocks with exports and agricultural use for livestock as well as farm and distribution waste.
Between 1980 and 2013, the number of overweight men went from 29 percent to 37 percent. During that same time, overweight in women went from 30 percent to 38 percent, the researchers said.
Food energy supply increased in 81 percent of these countries along with body weight. The researchers noted the increase in available calories for consumption was more than enough to explain rising rates of obesity in 65 percent of the countries. Food waste also increased significantly in these regions, the study found.
The study was published June 30 in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization.
Vandevijvere said factors such as increased urbanization, dependence on cars and jobs that don't require any physical activity all contribute to the global obesity epidemic.
"However, our study shows that oversupply of available calories is a likely driver of overconsumption of those calories, and can readily explain the weight gain seen in most countries," she said.
In May 2013, the 194 member states of the World Health Organization agreed on the Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases. Part of the plan is to stem the rise in global rates of obesity. The plan also suggests ways countries can help fight against obesity, including managing food subsidies and taxes to encourage healthy eating.
"Countries need to look at how they guide the food system. This means working across several sectors including agriculture, the food production, distribution and retail industries, health, social welfare and education," Dr. Francesco Branca, director of the department of nutrition for health and development at WHO, said in the news release.
Some of the suggestions include limiting the marketing of unhealthy foods to children, boosting the nutritional value of school lunches and food that's available in other public places, and improving nutrition information that's available on the front of packaging.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides more information on obesity.