The World Health Organization is calling on world governments to make fast food less attractive to citizens after a new study found that every fast food meal a person eats causes their body mass index (BMI) to go up 0.03 points.
BMI is a globally used measurement for obesity based on a person’s weight and height. More than two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese, based on this scale.
Researchers in Ireland and the U.S. linked fast food to obesity rates using data on fast-food sales per capita from 1999 to 2008 in high-income countries.
“While the average number of annual fast food transactions per capita increased from 26.61 to 32.76, average BMI increased from 25.8 to 26.4,” researchers reported in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization.
The highest increase in fast-food intake and average BMI were found in Australia, Canada, Ireland, and New Zealand.
“The more aggressive market-liberalized countries have a higher consumption of fast food,” explained study lead author Dr. Roberto De Vogli of the department of Public Health Sciences at the University of California, Davis.
“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,” De Vogli said.
De Vogli and colleagues from Queens University Belfast and the University of Texas say that government must take responsibility and disincentivize highly-processed fast food production.
“There is no question,” De Volgi added. “Big corporations have a mission to maximize profit. If we hope and expect that profit-driven businesses will safeguard public health, it is pure illusion.”
“The take-home message is that, although free-market policies are not to be demonized, it appears quite clear that in order to fight the obesity epidemic, a stronger role of government intervention is necessary,” he said.
The World Health Organization agrees.
“This study shows how important public policies are for addressing the epidemic of obesity,” said Dr. Francesco Branca, director of the Department of Nutrition for Health and Development at WHO.
“Policies targeting food and nutrition are needed across several sectors including agriculture, industry, health, social welfare and education,” he said.