To end the obesity crisis once and for all, researchers advise drastic changes in our governments and communities.
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It’s a common belief that we’re responsible for our own health and wellbeing. But what if that isn’t completely true? The most recent edition of The Lancet Commission on Obesity, published earlier this week, says we should reconsider this concept. The commission says our waistlines and nutritional beliefs could be impacted by variables outside our own control, such as our government, the media, the schools we attend, and our peers.

Obesity now presides in every region in the world, costing us $2 trillion in health care costs and lost economic productivity, and no country has successfully been able to reverse its impact. The report explained this is due largely to the overconsumption and overproduction of junk food, unregulated marketing in processed food and beverages, and the failure of governments to protect citizens from dangerous foods and dietary practices on a global scale.

“The recognition that people’s health-related behaviors are heavily influenced by the environments around them is the first step in implementing effective policies to support health,” the researchers noted.

The report stressed that our governments need to be held accountable for their impact on the obesity crisis, at both local and federal levels, before we can see a real impact in reduction and prevention. It noted governments have to keep the wellbeing of their citizens their top priority, but money is preventing them from doing so.

Powerful food and agricultural groups have kept lawmakers from protecting us from harmful methods of food production and wrongful influences on federal nutrition policies for decades. The 143 researchers from 90 countries who compiled this study even suggested creating international treaties limiting the political influences of “big food” groups.

The report also advised holding what they call “big food” companies accountable for manufacturing food and beverage products that are hazardous to public health. Demanding warning labels on products and changes in marketing regulations and design are two ways researchers suggest facilitating change. The report advises governments to consider taxation on processed foods and beverages to deter consumers from purchasing them, and to deter these food companies from further production of products that are hazardous to our health.

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Lastly, the report urges individuals and communities to work harder to make healthy food more accessible, affordable, and available, instead of remaining a luxury only some can afford. This means creating safer neighborhoods, strengthening schools, and setting healthy examples at home. The study also advises instituting more nutrition education opportunities for medical professionals and those who work in schools.

While this study set out to identify and solve problems surrounding obesity, the research team realized these problems couldn’t be addressed without also addressing two other pandemics—undernutrition and climate change. The study notes people who experience undernutrition—those who did not receive proper fetal or infant nutrition, experienced food insecurity, or grew up consuming unhealthy foods—have a greater chance of becoming obese later in life. It also notes that producers of processed foods and beverages are often the ones causing environmental disruption and contributing the most greenhouse gases.

The report said the problem isn’t that there isn’t enough food to go around. We are producing plenty of food to feed the world; we are just focusing on the wrong kinds of foods and need to entirely overhaul our food systems to provide nourishment for everyone. Holding our communities, governments, powerful food manufacturers, and even our own selves accountable is the only way researchers say we will ever be able to see obesity rates reduced in our lifetime.