An international team of researchers’ study of the spatial patterns of the spread of obesity suggests America’s bulging waistlines may have more to do with collective behavior than genetics or individual choices. The team, led by City College of New York physicist Hernan Makse, found correlations between the epidemic’s geography and food marketing and distribution patterns.
“We found there is a relationship between the prevalence of obesity and the growth of the supermarket economy,” Professor Makse said. “While we can’t claim causality because we don’t know whether obesity is driven by market forces or vice versa, the obesity epidemic can’t be solved by focus on individual behavior.”
The teams findings, published online in Scientific Reports,come as a policymakers are starting to address the role of environmental factors in obesity. For example, in New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants to limit serving sizes of soda sweetened with sugar to 16 ounces as a way to combat obesity.
The World Health Organization considers obesity a global epidemic similar to cancer or diabetes. It is a non-communicable disease for which no prevention strategy has been able to contain the spread.