Americans Come in First (in Obesity, of Course)

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OECD (the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development), a group of 33 countries "committed to democracy and the market economy," has just released a major report on obesity.

Its main conclusion? The United States population has the highest percentage of overweight and obesity in the democratic, market-economy world.

The report says:

Individual interventions have a relatively limited impact; therefore, comprehensive strategies involving multiple interventions to address a range of determinants are required to reach a "critical mass"—one that can have a meaningful impact on the obesity epidemic by generating fundamental changes in social norms. The development of comprehensive prevention strategies against obesity needs to focus on how social norms are defined and how they change; on the influence of education and information on obesity but also on the potential for government regulation to affect behaviours; and on the role of individual choice and values. A sensible prevention strategy against obesity would combine population and individual (high-risk) approaches.

Buried in this paragraph are some important concepts: Societies need to change social norms as well as individual behavior, and governments need to intervene to make the social environment more conducive to healthier practices.

Nancy Hellmich of USA Today attempted a translation of some of the recommendations for individuals:

    • Individual lifestyle counseling by family doctors and dietitians may be the most effective to increase the life expectancy and quality of life for people who are obese or at risk of becoming so.

    • Individual counseling should be supplemented with health-promotion campaigns, compulsory food labeling and cooperation between industry and government in the regulation of food advertising to kids.

The report breaks down data by country. Here are ours.


This post also appears on foodpolitics.com.

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Presented by

Marion Nestle is a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. She is the author of Food Politics, Safe Food, What to Eat, and Pet Food Politics. More

Nestle also holds appointments as Professor of Sociology at NYU and Visiting Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell. She is the author of three prize-winning books: Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health (revised edition, 2007), Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety (2003), and What to Eat (2006). Her most recent book is Feed Your Pet Right: The Authoritative Guide to Feeding Your Dog and Cat. She writes the Food Matters column for The San Francisco Chronicle and blogs almost daily at Food Politics.

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