Urbanization and Obesity

There are several ways that urban food environments, built environments, and technology advancements lead to poorer diets and less physical activity. Here are five features of urban environments that contribute to the obesity epidemic in low- and middle-income countries:

1. More High-Calorie Foods

Urban centers have more multinational supermarkets and fast-food chains, offering a ready supply of processed foods, high-calorie snacks, sweets, and sugary beverages, (1) and fewer open markets and farm stands.

2. More Passive Transportation

Urban centers have more roads, cars, and car travel, and less walking or biking for transportation or leisure. (2)

3. Less Open Space

Urban centers have more densely populated neighborhoods, and less outdoor recreational space.

4. More Mass Media

Urban centers offer more exposure to mass media marketing of food and beverages, (3) which can shift people’s preferences away from traditional diets.

5. Less Work-Related Physical Activity

Urban centers have more sedentary jobs (such as manufacturing and desk jobs) and fewer active jobs (such as farming).

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      References

      1. Reardon T, Timmer CP, Barrett CB, Berdegué J. The rise of supermarkets in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Am J Agric Econ. 2003; 85:1140–6.

      2. Kjellstrom T, Hakansta C, Hogstedt C. Globalisation and public health-overview and a Swedish perspective. Scand J Public Health Suppl. 2007; 70:2–68.

      3. Hawkes C. Uneven dietary development: linking the policies and processes of globalization with the nutrition transition, obesity and diet-related chronic diseases. Global Health. 2006; 2:4.

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      The aim of the Harvard School of Public Health Obesity Prevention Source Web site is to provide timely information about obesity’s global causes, consequences, prevention, and control, for the public, health and public health practitioners, business and community leaders, and policymakers. The contents of this Web site are not intended to offer personal medical advice. You should seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this Web site. The Web site’s obesity prevention policy recommendations are based primarily on a review of U.S. expert guidance, unless otherwise indicated; in other countries, different policy approaches may be needed to achieve improvements in food and physical activity environments, so that healthy choices are easy choices, for all.