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Obesity and the Food Environment

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The environment of food and its availability plays an important and more dominant role in the choices of food, eating patterns, nutrition, and energy intake.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Achanta Krishna Swaroop

Published At March 6, 2023
Reviewed AtMarch 6, 2023

Introduction:

Food environment greatly impacts nutritional intake and the food culture of the global community. In recent times, the food environment has been mostly associated with obesity. Therefore, there is a significant need to modify the food culture and environment to improve people's health gradually. The rate of obesity around the globe has drastically spiked over the decade and has shown a sustained increase in the recent few years.

According to recent reports, almost thirty-five percent of the adult population suffers from obesity, and 33.6 % percent are overweight. Obesity is a clinical condition occurring due to inadequate expenditure of calorie intake resulting in the conversion of energy into long-term deposition of fat cells. Where acute obesity is considered excessive calorie consumption, recent studies have proved that biological and genetic factors are contributory factors.

What Is a Food Environment?

The food environment is a cohesion of factors created by both human and social origin. The factors that build a food environment are physical, cultural, social, economic, and political reasons that impact the accessibility, quantity, adequacy, and availability of food in a community or society. On a broader view, the food environment is classified in two ways, they are:

  • The availability of food sources to the individuals.

  • The exposure of the consumers to a particular environment.

Here, the availability of food sources can be through:

  • Commercial food retailers (stores, supermarkets, etc.).

  • Non-traditional vendors ( pharmacies, private at-home sellers).

  • Pre-cooked food sources ( fast foods, restaurants, etc.).

A study showed an increase in supermarkets and stores, the development of retail food, and its easy availability. Their easy availability led to a compromise in quality diet and more consumption of fat and sugars. However, an increase in obesity is generally associated with smaller convenience outlets, fast food centers, and lower income, leading to an uneven distribution of food sources and causing an imbalance.

To prevent this, three main principles should be considered to understand the increase in unhealthy food and the association of the food environment with obesity and they are:

  • Health Researchers Are Associated With the Food Environment: It is important to know the statistics or data about the reasons for obesity and the food factors associated with it as it provides us with knowledge about the main triggering agents and ways to overcome it.

  • To Know the Current State of the Food Market: The current scenario in the food market plays a key role in knowing the type of food, quality, and nutrients that are taken daily and the associated clinical symptoms resulting in obesity. It also gives us an idea about the stages of clinical signs of obesity and the reason behind its progression.

  • Determining the Best Factors To Fix It: In today's scenario, obesity is considered a major epidemic disorder affecting people of all ages. It is a definite precursor for a lot of health problems, so an immediate need to fix this condition has been in most priority. The ways to fix this are also studied eventually to handle the patients.

What Are Factors Influencing the Food Environment of an Individual on an Everyday Basis?

The factors that influence food culture, intake, and environment of an individual on an everyday basis are:

  • Family: Families play an important role in an individual's diet and food culture based on their ethical and cultural beliefs. The quantity of food intake depends on the availability of food in a family and the frequency of it, which affects the BMI of the individual, especially in children and adolescents. In the case of smaller families with working partners, the food quality is often compromised, leading to more outside food.

  • Schools: The government concentrates on providing better nutrition-rich food to the children that include the healthier version of snacks, breakfast, and lunch, where the nutrients are measured according to the BMI, making it a healthier diet. However, students who often skip breakfast show more incidence of being overweight. In addition, the food outside the school is often unhealthy and sugar-rich with nil to very less nutritional value, which is taken without any monitoring resulting in low immunity levels.

  • Work area: In today's developing work and corporate culture, people spend most of their time at the workplace, where the work area often provides the employees with food and refreshments. But the key factor here is the increased availability of processed and unhealthy food factors like the food vending machines which provide snacks and sweets. There is an evident compromise in the availability of healthier food options and lack of fruits and vegetables, where the person is constantly exposed to an unhealthy diet. In the long term, this compromises the workers' health, resulting in tiredness and obesity.

  • Neighborhood Area: The area we live in has a major influence on us; depending on a high- or low-income area, food availability also varies based on the economy. The food in the upper economic grade is generally more nutritious than the lower economic grade as the availability of nutrition quotient needs to be included. This factor also determines the availability of stores in a locality, and obesity can be seen evidently in areas that lack supermarkets or with more convenience stores and fast-food centers selling sugar-rich foods.

What Are the Social Factors Affecting Food and Obesity?

The social factors affecting food and obesity are:

  • The food marketing and advertising culture promote food that the vendors need to sell, indirectly influencing people.

  • Government food policies and pricing determine the type of food people can eat and automatically reduce the usage of unhealthy and processed food as it can be expensive.

  • Taxing sugar-rich food higher (obesity tax) or size and portion control is one of the ways government can promote healthy eating habits. The increased price of sugar and sugar-rich food will lead to a decline in sales, causing a betterment in the food environment.

  • Another method is to make available health spaces in the form of parks, open gyms, and spaces promoting sporting and physical activities.

  • Encouraging and promoting the consumption of fruits and vegetables in the school's noon meals and cafeteria.

Conclusion:

Obesity as an epidemic has outdone all the research and public health sectors, and the need for fixing the food environment is of utmost importance. Improving the food environment requires a multi-pronged approach from various sectors, including government, educational institutions, families, and industries. These holistic efforts will bring down unhealthy food habits and promote healthy eating for the betterment of an entire community.

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Dr. Achanta Krishna Swaroop
Dr. Achanta Krishna Swaroop

Dentistry

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obesity
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