Obesogenic environment is a term commonly used in the medical realm to refer to the environmental factors that may promote both inactive behavior and poor nutrition, leading to obesity. Environmental factors may contribute to obesity by determining the consumption or availability of various foodstuffs, as well as the level of physical activities undertaken by different population segments. There are numerous studies and research articles that points out that obesogenic environment contribute to obesity. The classic definition of obesogenic environment is the collection of opportunities, surrounding and condition that promote obesity in individual or societies. The definition is expansive in the sense that it includes various factors that influence human health behavior to catalyze obesity. The growth of obesity levels in recent years has propelled an environmental, instead of the conventional genetic causation argument. This perspective of reasoning has increased interested in the role of the obesity-promoting environment on obesity. This paper critically evaluates the opinion that obesity is a result of an obesogenic environment.
Obesity and Obesogenic Environment
As of this writing, many children were developing in obesogenic or obesity-promoting environment. In the past few decades, there has been dramatic changes in the physical activity environment and consumed foods, both of which influences the transformation in human behavior that are linked to obesity. The changes in the obesogenic environment as well as the mechanism, through which humans respond to the same environment, are often unconsciously unknown or out of control. Some of the key changes are decrease in food cost, increase to food access and food salience. The increase in food advertisement or marketing though social media and the viral social networking sites create food cues that stimulate people to crave for food. As of consequence, overconsumption of unhealthy foods results in obesity. Other cues such as food novelty, variety and abundance cause people to supersede signal of satiety. According to Cohen, the natural response to the prevailing environmental cues is influenced by framing, and choices are biased or flawed depending on the manner in which information is presented. In the same context, it was noted that most people lack insight on how obesogenic environment affects, and eventually are unable to change the factors that lead to overconsumption of energy food.
Even as evidence for both contextual and compositional effects of the obesogenic environment on obesity prevalence exist, the answer to why some people are obese than others is complex combination of theories. For example, the environmental catalysis on obesity prevalence is to some extent influenced by individuals’ behaviors (physical activity and diet) because these are the key factors that led to extensive energy imbalance, and subsequently obesity. Environmental influences on diet involve the accessibility to foodstuff for home consumption or access to fast-food restaurants or takeaway foods. In the United States, individuals or societies living in low-income neighborhoods have a constrained access to high-quality or fairly priced healthy foods. This constraint is associated with poor nutrition and obesity in similar population segments. Similar findings are inconsistently observed in the United Kingdom. A recent study about high quality foods in the United Kingdom found out that there was not significant correlation between the introduction of a supermarket in a deprived neighborhood and obesity. The variance between the United States and the UK is a depiction of other factors that lead to obesity such as segregation of residence due to racial or socioeconomic factors, which determine patterns and behaviors of food purchase and consumption.
The obesogenic environments for adults and children have subtle differences. Adults have more control over their environments than children. Children tend to increase their control over obesogenic environments as they age. It follow that the induced control is heavily affected by the environments in which people brought up. What children eat and the physical activities they are engaged are strongly influenced by the school and home environments. For instance, in a family where parents are vegetarians, children are likely to be like their parents. Similarly, if their parents rarely exercise, they are less likely to be physically active. In children, the timelines of being obese is shorter than in adults. That is to say, children are likely to be obese in a short time as compared to adults who may take years to be obese. This observation is linked to the reasoning that adults migrate more than children, hence their immediate surrounding or environmental conditions are likely to contribute to obesity. Adults are always on move, either to work or other places.
As noted earlier, the characteristics of the neighborhood in which an individual lives, including deprivation, influences the behavior in that have different effects on health. Deprivation is associated with obesity, but the link is not straightforward, in reference to the timing of the impact measure of obesity. That is, whether the impact is in childhood or adulthood. Poverty, frequent migration, employment, housing and overcrowding can result on environmental changes that may induce the breakdown of socioeconomic factors that impact health adversely. These factors are bound in the term urbanization. Migration and transformation of the physical and socioeconomic organization of urban settings, transforms the behaviors of people due to urban-lifestyle. Behavioral changes impact on health behaviors and the probability of developing obesity. The potential role of urbanization in the prevalence of obesity should also be viewed in terms of urban regeneration and whether this change influence impact on health. In the same context, reduced accessibility to school, work and social activities because of urban sprawling have been proved to be linked to obesity prevalence in the United States than in the UK. Poor access to healthy food is the contributory factor to poor nutrition, health and obesity.
The rapid escalation in obesity in the United States has occurred without significant transformation in gene pools, implying that the cause is environment and lifestyle, rather that biology. The prevailing environment encourages energy intake and discourages expenditures through physical activities. There is an increasing popularity of fast foods in the neighbourhoods. The central reason behind this popularity is the change in lifestyle because of globalization and technological advancements. For example, highly productive companies promote high individual performance and the key means of achieving organizational productivity is to increase working hours. As of consequence, the time spent purchasing, preparing and eating healthy foods is reduced. Extended leaning time and tight working shifts in the contemporary world also increase the consumption of foods rich in energy, leading to overconsumption. In the same vein, the number of women attending school and working continues to grow. Subsequently, the time they spend commuting, working or attending lectures limit the time they would be spending cooking healthy foods or exercising. In the same line, men prefer fast foods to cooking healthy foods. As people migrate due to globalization, they also carry their eating habits and physical activities behaviours. For example, an American deployed in Africa is likely to eat at McDonalds because their outlets are distributed across the global village. The service time is convenient for individuals with rapid paced lives. Fast foods or takeaways are relatively cheaper and accessible in the U.S. than elsewhere in the world. The prices are observably low due to competitive price wars among sellers.
The evidence outlined in this critical review points that obesogenic environment influences the levels of obesity and physical activity. However, environmental influences are probably negligible and related-mechanism remains unclear. People adapt to environments that enhance poor-quality food choices and sedentary behavior readily. In addition, people also readily adapt cultures where eating healthy foods or being active are not given priority. Furthermore, the resistance to change in obesogenic environments is high. An effective strategy is probably to involve complementary strategies and policies that address individual, environmental and social factor that cause obesity. The extensive advertisement and marketing programs by the franchises the fast food industry contributes to the escalation of obesity. Understanding the causal factors for overconsumption and poor physical activities will be central turbine for interrupting the obesogenic environment that causes obesity.