Governments could slow or even reverse the growing obesity epidemic if they introduced more regulation into the global market for fast foods such as burgers, chips and fizzy drinks, researchers said yesterday.
A study published in the Bulletin of the World Health Organisation (WHO) suggested that if governments took firmer action, they could start to prevent people becoming overweight and obese.
"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," said Roberto De Vogli of the University of California, Davis, who led the study.
The WHO is urging governments to do more to try to prevent obesity in the first place. Suggested policies include economic incentives for growers to sell healthy, fresh foods; and disincentives for industries to sell ultra-processed foods and soft drinks.
The research analysed the effect on obesity of deregulation in the economy over time and the resulting increase in the number of times people bought fast food.
The researchers compared the number of fast food transactions with body mass index (BMI) in 25 high-income countries between 1999 and 2008.
They found that, as the average number of annual fast food transactions increased from 26.61 to 32.76 per person, average BMI increased from 25.8 to 26.4.
Vogli said that the research, while carried out in wealthy countries, was also relevant to developing countries.