Affordability and Obesity

Issues in the Multifunctionality of Agricultural/Food Systems

This article examines the relationship between obesity and the affordability of food. While some argue that the availability of certain types of foods has a causal effect on obesity, there is little definitive data supporting this claim.

The author presented this article at the conference "Food Systems and Public Health: Linkages to Achieve Healthier Diets and Healthier Communities." Sturm utilizes the framework of multifunctionality to examine the complex relationship between food consumption and obesity. Multifunctionality examines the linkage between commodity and non-commodity output production in food systems.

Key Findings:

  • While some arguments link obesity to relative scarcity of healthy food in some areas, the consumption of fruits and vegetables has actually increased over the past 30 years, even as rates of obesity have also increased dramatically.
  • Although levels of obesity have been consistently higher among individuals with less education, obesity levels have increased over time at almost the same rate for people at every level of education.
  • The linkage between obesity and other policy issues, including food insecurity, local food and food subsidies, is tenuous. Obesity cannot be framed simply as an issue of poverty given that obesity is increasing equally among all income groups.
  • The increase in consumption of fruits and vegetables does not result in an equal decrease of consumption of junk food, and thus on its own does not combat obesity.

The relationship between obesity and other food policy issues is complex and at times weak. Portraying obesity as a result of poverty and food insecurity does not accurately reflect the evidence behind a complicated problem.

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