A study conducted at the University of California, Davis, suggests government regulation of fast food could slow or reverse the damaging effects of the obesity epidemic, if government steps in to regulate global marketing of fast foods such as burgers, chips and sugar drinks like soda, in a report to be released Monday according to Al-Jazeera America.
"Unless governments take steps to regulate their economies, the invisible hand of the market will continue to promote obesity worldwide with disastrous consequences for future public health and economic productivity,” said Roberto De Vogli of the University of California, Davis.
The study was published in the World Health Organization Bulletin by the World Health Organization (WHO). It is encouraging governments to do more to prevent obesity from occurring initially, rather than risking the high human and economic costs of treating the health effects of obesity such as diabetes, heart diseases and cancer.
WHO advises governments should regulate fast food to prevent and hinder obesity by developing policies that include economic incentives to growers to sell healthy fresh foods, and disincentives to industries that develop and sell highly processed foods and soda.
Furthermore, the organization suggests governments should reduce subsidies to farmers, growers and companies who use excessive amounts of fertilizers, pesticides, chemical and antibiotics.
Also, fast-food advertising geared to children and youth markets should be regulated.
Results of the study
The results published in World Health Bulletin in part are as follows:
The research analyzed the effect on obesity of deregulation in the economy over time, including in the agriculture and food sectors, and the resulting increase in so-called "fast food transactions" – in other words, the number of times people bought fast food.
The researchers compared the number of fast food transactions with body mass index (BMI) in 25 high-income countries between 1999 and 2008.
They found that, as the average number of annual fast food transactions increased from 26.61 to 32.76 per person, average BMI increased from 25.8 to 26.4.
Someone with a BMI of 25 or more is overweight, while a BMI of 30 or more is considered obese.
Vogli said in the Al-Jazeera report: “While the research was based on data from wealthy countries, its findings were also relevant to developing countries.
"Virtually all nations have undergone a process of market deregulation and globalization – especially in the last three decades.
The researchers looked at 25 countries, and the average number of fast food purchases increased, particularly in Canada, Australia, Ireland and New Zealand. Conversely, the lowest numbers were in countries with market regulations, such as Italy, Netherlands, Greece and Belgium.
"Policies targeting food and nutrition are needed across several sectors including agriculture, industry, health, social welfare and education," he said.
"Countries where the diet is transitioning from one that is high in cereals to one that is high in fat, sugar and processed foods need to take action to align the food supply with the health needs of the population."
Slow food philosophy
The Slow Food movement began in Italy in 1986 and was founded by Carlo Petrini. It created an alternative to fast food. The movement has grown to 150 countries and more than 100,000 participants with approximately 1,500 local chapters. The movement’s aim is to develop activities, projects and events at the local level, as well as regional and globally.
The goal is to preserve traditional cuisine using local and regional produce, and encourage farming of sustainable agriculture crops. Its political agenda is promotion of local businesses versus the globalization of agricultural products and sales.
We oppose the standardization of taste and culture, and the unrestrained power of food industry multinationals and industrial agriculture.
Our approach is based on a concept of food quality that is defined by three interconnected principles: good, clean and fair.
Slow Food promoters believe food is linked to culture, politics, agriculture and the environment. Through food choices a population can collectively influence how food is cultivated, produced and distributed in order to change and reform how food is envisioned.
Government regulation of fast food is extremely controversial, and as the mayor of New York City found out, unconstitutional.
Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg's decree to disallow large sugary drinks out of restaurants and other eateries was rejected by a state appeals court in 2013, which said he had overstepped his authority to impose the ban. Bloomberg’s ban “violated the state principle of separation of powers," the First Department of the state Supreme Court's Appellate Division said.
WHO believes the movement to regulate fast food should be a global effort initiated by individual governments based on the findings by the University of California research.
Response to regulations in the US has been sending some fast food companies abroad for a while.
Andy Puzder, the CEO of CKE Restaurants, the parent company of Hardee's and Carl's Jr., reports his “company is expanding rapidly abroad due to higher potential outside the US, which is hampered by what he sees as too much government regulation.”
"Under the current US business climate, regulatory and tax restrictions tend to curb otherwise dynamic entrepreneurial energy," Puzder said
US companies outsourcing to international markets is not new. Nestlé did it by marketing infant formula to third-world countries when it was revealed that breast feeding was preferred over formula feeding for babies. Likewise, when tobacco was determined by the surgeon general to be hazardous, tobacco companies began seeking consumers in foreign countries.
There should be a middle ground where industry and governments can coexist in the US for the best interests of promoting healthy Americans.