A new LSE study suggests that our 21st century, globalised lifestyles are fuelling the rise of obesity.
The study, published in Food Policy, compared the link between globalisation and obesity, measuring two kinds of globalisation; economic, which leads to lower food prices and increased trade, and social, which has led to increased sedentary recreation activities. The authors found that ‘social globalisation’ has the strongest association with rising obesity rates, and conclude that individual lifestyle changes such as reducing calorie intake and increased activity levels, are necessary to address the rising world obesity rates.
The authors premise for the research was that globalisation, defined as increasing international economic and social interdependence, has accelerated rapidly over the past three decades. Over this period obesity levels in many developed nations have risen; in the U.K. for example, obesity levels have more than trebled in the last 30 years.
Social globalisation has brought lifestyle changes in advanced economies, which have led to longer working hours, the growing prevalence of sedentary activities through increased use of televisions, smart-phones, or computers, and changes to transportation systems designed to minimise physical energy expended by commuters.
The second aspect of globalisation in the study is economic, characterised by lower food prices due to reduced tariffs on trade, changes in living standards through aggregate rising affluence, and women’s increasing participation in the labour market.
The relationship between globalisation and its two sub-components, ‘social’ and ‘economic’ globalisation,was tested against obesity levels in populations from 26 countries, including the UK. The study focused on the period between 1989–2005, when globalisation accelerated in many countries and obesity levels increased rapidly.
The authors found a strong association between globalisation and obesity; a one standard deviation increase in globalisation was associated with a 23.8 percent increase in obesity within the population and a 4.3 percent rise in calorie intake. Furthermore, a one standard deviation increase in social globalisation was found to have increased obesity within the population by 13.7 percent.
The authors concluded that individuals will need to adjust to the less calorific demands of the globalised lifestyles to help mitigate the expanding world obesity levels and growing overweight population.
Dr Joan Costa-Font, one of the study’s authors, said: “Our findings show that globalisation, and primarily the changes in encompasses in how we engage with social life including employment, are linked to the obesity epidemic. Typically, life in the 21st century might mean a commute into a desk-based occupation, and three or four meals a day, leading to many people consuming more calories than their lifestyles require. It is probably no coincidence that the UK has one of the highest rates of obesity in the world, while it is also one of the world’s most globalised, advanced economies.”
“To address the growing obesity crisis, policymakers should invest in changing people’s behaviour to adapt to the less caloric demands of a global lifestyle so that that they are encouraged to lead healthier, more active lifestyles and reduce their consumption. For people as individuals, we should all be aware that changes in our lifestyles should also mean changes in our diet.”