Too much food for thought: The obesity epidemic

Our policies and strategies for public health are not enough to control the global obesity epidemic. A radical policy shift could be the best way for governments to combat the global obesity epidemic. They should regulate food consumption and control the food sector in the same manner as the tobacco industry.

By providing frequent opportunities to consume excessive food and by encouraging sedentary habits, our environment promotes obesity. The portion sizes are larger, and ready-to-eat, “king-size” snacks in pre-packaged form are available. You’ve probably seen chocolate bars attached to soft drink bottles and foot-long sandwiches.

Often, smaller portions are not offered. Coca-Cola bottles were approximately 200 ml in size at the beginning of the 20th century. It’s now sold in bottles of 600 ml – 1000 ml for individual consumption. The larger chocolate bars and crisp packets encourage overconsumption while giving us the impression of better value.

Obesity results from a maladaptation of the body to its environment. Aside from a small group of people who have metabolic disorders or genetic predispositions, the main cause of obesity is eating too much food compared to energy expenditure.

A positive energy balance is the result when energy intake exceeds overall expenditure. Combine this with the body’s capacity to store large quantities of energy in fat, and you get the cause of the obesity epidemic. Weight gain can be caused by any factor that increases or decreases energy consumption, even if it is a small amount per day.

Our society and our environment must undergo radical change to solve the fundamental problem of a positive energy balance. These changes must empower people to alter their eating habits. We’re joking ourselves if we think that this is just about personal choice and we aren’t influenced by constant mass marketing.

Consider these measures:

Higher taxes on fast food. The local government could use the tax revenue from fat- and sugary-rich foods to subsidize fruits and vegetables.

Pricing strategies to encourage healthier food purchases

Foods that are lower in fat and energy density will be more readily available and cheaper.

The ban on fast food advertising in mass media, radio, and television is also applicable to sports.

Social marketing for healthy food

Manufacturers must use health warnings and traffic light labels on certain foods and beverages.

Providing financial incentives to food manufacturers and retailers to sell smaller portions.

Rationing of certain foods.

Consider the most controversial suggestion: rationing. The British government implemented rationing of food in all households during the Second World War (1939-1945). Each family was given a certain number of points per month, and certain foods, like meat, fish, and biscuits, as well as sugar, fats, and tea, were rationed.

Each adult received 16 points per month, and they could decide how to use them. There were special supplements for pregnant women, young children, and those with certain illnesses. Food shortages during World War II and government directives forced the people to change their eating habits. They ate significantly less sugar, meat, and eggs than we do today.

After the end of World War II, Britain continued to ration food for another 14 years. In June 1954, meat was de-rationed. People stopped using and buying cars and used public transport. Food supply and travel were limited. People ate less and did more walking.

In the United Kingdom, obesity rates were negligible during the years of rationing. Waste was minimized as individuals and government agencies worked to reduce food waste (sustainable consumption) to a minimum.

Could a form of food rationing or portion control help address the dramatic increase in obesity and ensure the sustainability of the foods we consume? We may have no choice if we continue to consume food in ways that are unsustainable for our health and the planet.

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