Is Our Obesogenic Environment Making It Hard to Lose Weight?

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obesogenic environment

The term obesogenic has been around for a while, but I haven’t seen it being used in mainstream media until recently.

What is an obesogenic environment?

A publication from the University of Nevada indicates that an obesogenic environment is one that helps or contributes to obesity. 

In other words, how our neighborhoods are set up, the food in schools, the availability of food, the number of restaurants, the cost of food, our sedentary lifestyle, etc. all contribute to obesity. In thinking about this term, I thought a lot about the cultural environment we live in and pondered how our environment does contribute to the obesity rates in the United States and in other parts of the world.

I read some of the book “Reversing the Obesogenic Environment” by Rebecca Lee and she said:

. . .No sudden genetic shift is to blame for our obesity. What has changed in recent history is our environment.

I was obese from about 1988 to 1998. I think that the environment that we are in now is even more of an obesogenic environment than it was in the late 80s and 90s. In other words, it is easier now to be overweight than in any other time in our history.

Increase in Fast Food

Americans spend more on fast food meals than they do on “movies, books, magazines, newspapers, videos, and recorded music – combined,” according to the book “Fast Food Nation.” The fast food industry is a multi-billion dollar industry that caters to our desire for cheap, easy, “no thinking” food.

Fast food is notoriously unhealthy and although there are healthier choices at most fast food restaurants, a lot of people I know choose not to eat a salad at a fast food restaurant, but instead choose a cheeseburger and fries. It’s tastier to them, easier, and more appealing because of its magic combination of fat, sugar, and salt.

Cost of Healthy Food

A study found that eating a “healthy diet” costs about $1.50 per day per person. Like I wrote about here, that can be a detriment to weight loss because cost is often a factor in the food choices we make. Add to this the fact that many people do not know how to cook healthy food, source healthy foods, or understand the importance of healthy eating and you’ve got a definite problem.


Unless you live in a big city, you probably drive a lot. It would take me an hour to walk to a grocery store and that’s without a sidewalk or jogging path. I’d be right on the busy road. So I drive almost everywhere and I’m not alone. Our environment of living away from the town center makes it necessary that we deliberately get exercise because exercise is not built into our life like it was in years past.

Social Issues

Research shows that people who live in underprivileged neighborhoods have more fast food restaurants per capita than other neighborhoods. That could go a long way toward explaining the tendency for people in low socioeconomic situations to struggle with obesity because good food isn’t even readily available to them.

Screen Time

We have more ways to sit down and watch a screen than in years past. With phones that play movies, tablets that occupy your time, game consoles that let you play without moving off the couch, and televisions that do nothing for your physical fitness level, it’s no wonder so many of our struggle with staying physically fit and at a healthy weight.

Acceptance of Obesity as the New Normal

I know it’s not popular to talk about, but there is an inherent acceptance of obesity in our society to some extent. When most people are overweight or obese, most people begin to think about obesity as being normal. After all, if most of your friends look like you — why change? (That’s probably why I loved having friends who were as big as I was. I didn’t have many, but there was one.)

There are a lot of factors that come into play with regards to our obesity crisis and I do think our obesogenic environment is one of them.

Do you ever think about the impact our current environment has on obesity? Does it make it harder than ever to get to and stay at a healthy weight? Diane


  1. Mandy Cat says

    I recently ran across a series of photographs taken during the 1950’s in the Bronx, just street scenes of regular people, nobody fancy. One of the first things I noticed (after the perfectly awful hairdos) was how comparatively slender everyone was. The children and young adults were downright thin. Middle aged folks were at most chubby and Grandma and Grandpa had mostly reverted to thin again. There wasn’t a single person in the dozen or so photographs who could be called obese. If genetic shift is responsible for our current problems, then evolution has apparently gone into warp speed.

  2. says

    Another big “obesogenic environment” is the church. If you’re in a church community, you’re presented (or assaulted) with food almost every time you walk in the door. Coffee and pastries between services, meals at business meetings (to coax people to come), men’s breakfasts (complete with bacon, sausage and potatoes), brunches, candy and cookies for VBS, etc. For a few years, our church REQUIRED us to offer food at our Sunday adult classes. (Ours rebelled… quietly, of course!) It frustrates me, because all this food is followed by prayer requests for knee surgeries, back surgeries and diabetes diagnoses, redecorating of the sanctuary with wide, cushy seats (and more screens) and laments in women’s prayer circles about how hard it is to lose weight. It IS hard, and churches shouldn’t be making it harder by using food to make people feel welcome.

  3. says

    Even people who work with obesity (nutritionists, etc) do not fully grasp this concept.

    They still push things like controlling diabetes instead of eliminating it (type 1’s are stuck, 80% of type 2’s can eliminate).

    They still think the answer is “all things in moderation” (which almost never works because there are a ton of ‘all things’ out there that NO ONE should be eating).

    They do not understand that most need to do major therapy work in addition to changing food and exercise (inner work is vital).

    Almost no one is working with maintenance, they just work with weight loss.

    • says

      I ditto what Vickie has written. The Obesogenic Environment extends into the health care system as well. High carb muffins, granola, low fat chocolate milk -( all with enough sugar to equal Coke or Snickers.). all pedaled as part of “healthy snacking”. I’ve observed more health care workers with type 2 diabetes when the food environment in break rooms and what is provided to employees and brought from home tends to be packaged products. The whole system has run aground- IMO.
      I keep a good food environment at home, because for me, it starts with food. That in turn sets up a good environment for my kid, which will help keep her out of the high junk food, high processed carb world. We are both leaner for it. Coming from a place of strength at home helps us both steer clear of the environment outside the home. Quite possibly one of the best gifts we can give our kids. True wellness. Good food home environment. Non-Obesogenic
      Karen P recently posted…Egg elimination for 3 weeks, looking for less acne & inflammationMy Profile

  4. says

    Yes, societal trends don’t make it any easier to stay lean and fit! Junk food is considered normal food, and being sedentary is widespread. My neighbors drive the half kilometer to their kids’ bus stop. Then they complain they are fat. I can only shrug…

  5. says

    I think that the environment plays a huge role – everything from school lunches to all of the modern conveniences that most of us take for granted. I think that in the healthy blogging community we see one extreme and then a completely different extreme in so many other areas of life. I think that we can’t exist in either extreme – we have to find our own balance.
    Kim recently posted…Day With KT Is EvolvingMy Profile

  6. says

    Yes. A thousand times, yes. I do think the environment has a lot to do with it. I remember when I was a kid and a regular coke was 6 1/2 oz. and a big Coke was 10 oz. and my parents occasionally let me have one. It’s a different world out there now.

    The other thing is that computers are great and all that (they really are) but technology makes it so easy for us to live our lives while glued to the computer chair. I think that sitting and being sedentary really doesn’t help. And, for most of us, we don’t have to burn many calories or walk many steps to live our daily lives. And, that takes a toll as well.
    Kitty recently posted…Friend Makin’ Mondays: Holiday TraditionsMy Profile

  7. says

    I think the environment has changed hugely, and that is a massive contributor to our health decline. I think so much of it centers around technology. That’s not to say I’m anti-tech, because I LOVES me my tech! I’m isolated in the country, so it’s my connection to the outside world. I work quietly by myself, so I play movies/tv in the background that I listen to (unfortunately, my work is extra sedentary – I even hold my breath frequently, so i don’t even burn calories breathing sometimes! Doesn’t get more sedentary than that!) I will say that I don’t think I’ve sat and watched but a couple hours of television a week in total, even though I probably play 40+ hours or more since it’s on when I clean, or exercise (if I’m running indoors, I need something to distract me) or work or what have you (the radio only gets you so far, and I like to have my mind engaged in a story, it’s why i read about 2-5 books a week too.)

    The cost of healthy food is absolutely insane. I think that is a big problem. I don’t have access to fast food where I live, and even if I did I’m too shy to go through a drive through (which sounds stupid, but I’ve always been this way) so that doesn’t impact me much, but I can see how it has with others. We have so many things making life “easier” that we’ve forgotten the value attained by something being hard. Of course, I mean this in more than a physical way too. I think it’s a prevailing problem through our society currently.
    Kyra recently posted…CattyMy Profile

  8. says

    Yes! This is a great article! I also think the portion size at restaurants has gotten huge! It is sad to see that we, as a society in general, are afraid to talk about weight issues. The result seems to be that the rates of obesity continue to increase. Thanks for writing such a thought provoking article.
    Jen at Thingineering recently posted…Balsamic Brussels SproutsMy Profile

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