Most people in the Western World know about obesity, we either suffer from it ourselves or know someone who does. As obesity statistics continue to spiral out of control, obesity is now officially known in America as a serious disease requiring medical intervention. But what causes obesity? Laziness? Genetics? Lack of willpower? Here we take a look at the phenomenon that many people claim to be the real cause of obesity.

There is no denying that obesity is contributed to by what we eat, and how much of it, as well as how much energy we spend in our day to day lives. There are also links to genetics, with studies showing that babies born to obese mothers are more likely to be obese, due to the excessive exposure to fat and sugar in the womb. But with obesity rates rising in adults as well as children, it is necessary to look at our environment to get the real answer; to find out how we, our children, our parents and grandparents have become so obese that we are seriously limiting our life expectancy.

In a recent study, 69% of Americans said that they know better than to eat fast food, to drink high calorie drinks and to snack on unhealthy food, but that they continued to do so. Why? Because, it can’t be denied, eating badly is usually cheaper and easier than eating well. This is because most Americans, as well as most people from other Western cultures, are living in an obesigenic environment.

What Is An Obesigenic Environment?

The true cause of obesity has many factors, all of which contribute to more energy being consumed than burnt off. Many external factors make a difference too, such as the distance from a grocery store, a park, restaurants, as well as urban sprawl and neighborhood safety issues. These factors all contribute to the accessibility and quality of food as well as the inclination and opportunity to leave the house, to walk to locations, to work out; go for a walk, jog, run, or just play in the park.

An Obesigenic environment is one that does not encourage residents to eat well, to eat fresh fruit and vegetables, to exercise regularly.  The definition of an obesigenic environment is: “an environment that promotes gaining weight and one that is not conducive to weight loss”. Examples of factors that lead to an obesigenic environment include:

  • Unsafe walkways: people are less likely to walk or jog, sidewalks are, for example, cracked and unkempt.
  • Neighborhood safety: people in high crime rate areas are less likely to do physical activity in comparison with those in low crime areas.
  • Proximity to areas conducive to physical activity: those who live further from the gym, swimming pool, park or ballpark are less likely to exercise.
  • Accessibility to healthy food: if fresh food is not available, healthy food intake will be limited.
  • Proximity to fast food: if it is easier to get fast food than to shop for healthy groceries people are more likely to opt for high fat, high calorie food instead of fresh, healthier options.

What Can You Do?

By recognizing that obesity isn’t entirely your fault you will give yourself the opportunity to make changes. Recognize the obesigenic traps in your lifestyle; the convenience of catching a bus or the subway, the habit of getting takeout instead of cooking, and make changes to counteract these obesigenic factors. Make the effort to go further afield to get your groceries, plan your meals ahead and plan your shopping accordingly. Small changes will contribute to a big difference.

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