Cheap Food May Be Key Player In Obesity Epidemic
May 23, 2014

Low Cost Of Food Could Play A Role In Rising US Obesity Levels

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

While the American obesity epidemic has been blamed on the lack of healthier culinary choices or adequate exercise, the authors of a new CA: Cancer Journal for Clinicians study have discovered a different and potentially surprising cause: the availability of inexpensive food.

In the new study, Roland Sturm of RAND Corporation and Ruopeng An of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign conducted a review of known economic factors linked to increasing obesity rates in the US. They discovered that many of things commonly blamed for America’s expanding waistline are actually getting a bad rap.

Currently, two-thirds of all Americans are either overweight or obese, and the rates have increased steadily throughout the past several decades, the researchers said. While sugary snacks, fast food, portion size, television viewing habits, computer use, inadequate physical activity and other factors have been blamed for helping make Americans fatter, the authors set out to assess which potential solutions could help reverse the recent trends.

Interestingly enough, Sturm and An found that rising obesity rates actually coincided with an increase in leisure time, greater availability of fruits and vegetables, and increased exercise uptake. So if it isn’t the fact that people are working more, having more difficulty finding healthier food options, or spending less time and/or lacking the inclination to be physically active, then what exactly is causing people in the US to pack on the pounds?

Based on an examination of the available evidence, the study authors claim that the availability of inexpensive food appears to have the strongest link with the obesity epidemic. They explained that people currently residing in the US are spending just 10 percent of their disposable income on food – “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.”

In comparison, Americans spent 25 percent of their disposable income on food in the 1930s, and 20 percent in the 1950s. While there was evidence that other factors, such as the rise of electronic entertainment, the increased use of automobiles, increase urbanization and employment trends shifting away from physically taxing industries, Sturm and An said that the evidence for those associations is not quite as strong.

Their study discovered that, in addition to working fewer hours, Americans are spending less time on household chores and caring for their dependents than they did several decades ago, meaning that they have more free time than ever before. In addition, not only isn’t food more expensive than in the past, the cost of fruits and vegetables has dropped by one-fifth since 1970, so eating healthy doesn’t cost more now than it did in the past.

In terms of exercise and physical activity, the information is a little less conclusive, according to the researchers. In 2012, Americans participating in the Behavioral Risk Factor Survey reported that they were exercising an average of four minutes per day more than was reported in 2003. However, they also claimed to have been sleeping an additional 10 minutes and watching 15 more minutes worth of television.

“Self-reported exercise increases over time, and the total sedentary time also increases over time,” An said in a statement. “So we are kind of in a dilemma trying to figure out what really contributes to the obesity epidemic. We have a lot of hypotheses but we really don't have much data to support them at this stage.”