Social policy researcher Helen Lee thinks food activism is leading public health astray (emphasis mine):
Much of the American public health and medical establishment came to believe that one of the most powerful ways to overcome the [obesity] epidemic was to radically remake our school and neighborhood food environments, reducing access to unhealthy foods and increasing access to healthy ones.
But in their rush to condemn corporate agribusiness, food marketers, and neighborhood food environments, public health advocates have too often allowed their policy and ideological preferences to race ahead of the science. This has fostered a reductive story about obesity that appeals to liberal audiences but doesn’t comport particularly well with much of what we know about why people choose to eat unhealthy foods, what the health consequences of being overweight or obese actually are, or why health outcomes associated with obesity are so much worse among some populations than others.
Against the current popular discourse, obesity is better understood as an unintended consequence of affluence than as a disease epidemic.
It’s a long read and I had a couple of knee-jerk responses in places, but I think it’s well worth a thoughtful read. In particular, I find one of her conclusions intriguing:
The focus on food environments also led school-based efforts themselves to be too limited. “If the framing of the public remains around individual willpower,” Wallack and Dorfman wrote in their analysis for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in 2004, “approaches that seek to improve environments are less likely to be understood by the public.” But if environments, as measured by food deserts and fast food proliferation, have little or no impact on obesity rates, and are unlikely to be expunged of unhealthy foods, the public health focus should rightly consider ways of empowering children to exercise more willpower.
… As such, nutrition education and school gardening programs are probably a lot less valuable than curriculums that show young people how to manage desires for unhealthy foods.
HT Linda Bacon.
Risk of obesity, increased body fat percentage, increase waist circumferences and waist to hip ratios all went up in lock step with degree of economic development.