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Posted on Thu, Dec 22, 2011 : 7:02 a.m.

Blame the fast food? U-M researcher says supersized economies drive obesity

By Kellie Woodhouse

A bustling free market economy gives you more choices. And more choices, according to a University of Michigan researcher, can lead to gluttony.


AP Photo

Obesity rates in countries with supersized market economies, such as the United States and Canada, are much higher than those with restrictive trade policies, according to Roberto De Vogli, associate professor in the U-M School of Public Health.

The reason, he asserts, is the availability of fast food chains.

The number of unhealthy fast food options in places like the U.S. greatly outweigh the amount of fast food restaurants in more trade-restrictive nations like Japan.

"Those nations that apply more aggressive free market policies have both: More fast food restaurants and more obesity," Vogli said, explaining that the make-up of a nations economy is "a major driver of obesity."

The U.S. and Canada have more than seven fast food restaurants per 100,000 people, according to the report. They also have high obesity rates. In the U.S. 31.3 percent of men and 33.2 percent of women are obese. In Canada about 23 percent of the population is obese.

According to the report, other nations have significantly fewer fast food restaurants.

In Japan, which has relatively restrictive trade policies, about 3 percent of individuals are overweight.

There's also much fewer fast food restaurants. On average, there are 1.3 fast food restaurants per 1 million people.

In Norway, there are about two restaurants per 1 million individuals and the obesity rate is 6.4 percent for men and 5.9 percent for women.

Thus, Vogli asserts, obesity is not only the result of genetics and personal choices, but it also stems from the environment that surrounds you.

“The point here is to emphasize the global situation of the obesity epidemic,” he said. “Most research is dedicated to look at genetics, behaviors or other types of factors, but here when we look at trends over time we can see… that there are global forces behind obesity.”

Vogli and other prominent researchers assert that the U.S. is in the midst of a serious obesity epidemic. A study completed earlier this year found that obesity in the U.S. costs $270 billion per year. Michigan ranks as the 10th-fattest state in the country.

Several recent studies also indicate that obesity is starting earlier and earlier. According to one such study, 7 percent of boys and 5 percent of girls are extremely obese.

Kellie Woodhouse covers higher education for Reach her at or 734-623-4602 and follow her on twitter.



Sat, Dec 24, 2011 : 3:19 a.m.

If anyone is interested in the fast food industry and how it developed and how it has changed American society, read Food Inc, or see the documentary film by the same title. On a related note, obesity is costing us billions per year in health care costs, and all of us are paying the price.


Sat, Dec 24, 2011 : 3:21 a.m.

...yea, that is a "documentary" the way Michael Moore makes "documentaries". Hilarious - you people would have loved living in the Soviet Union at it's height of power and control or it's subjects.


Sat, Dec 24, 2011 : 3:13 a.m.

I think it's more about the values of a particular society, rather than the number of fast food outlets. If people weren't interested in eating the junk served at fast food joints, the outlets would decrease. In Europe, there is more emphasis on eating in a more healthy way, and less emphasis on eating high fat, high salt, high sugar-laden foods. Europeans also value cooking at home, fresh foods (look at all the open air farm markets in every city and town year round), and in general are not caught up in the frenzy of cheap junky food as many Americans are. It's a different value system on many levels and food is one example.


Fri, Dec 23, 2011 : 1:49 p.m.

Let's face it. People have to have some COMMON SENSE when it comes to eating & choosing the right food to eat.


Fri, Dec 23, 2011 : 1:36 p.m.

I believe the problem of obesity is largely mental. We are educated to death about what we should be eating and how often we should be moving our bodies. We know we shouldn't eat fast food, white bread and pasta, refined sugar, animal fat, etc., etc., etc. We know we should exercise at least 20 minutes a day, etc, etc, etc. But something in our minds just doesn't force us to do it. Maybe it's that modern life has become so complicated with things that don't even matter that we are tired of forcing more discipline on ourselves. Maybe we are just spoiled. Some are making their whole lives into one big exercise routine. That's all they think of. Others do it with food. These people seem to get great joy out of telling others about it, that's what keeps them going. There are tons of documentaries and books on the subject, seen and soon forgotten. Very complicated problem.


Fri, Dec 23, 2011 : 12:19 p.m.

Typical contempory American point of view = blame someone else for our own laziness and poor eating habits. Maybe shortening the length of unemployment benefits to 26 weeks would get some of these folks to actually find a job and spend more time moving than sitting.


Thu, Dec 22, 2011 : 10:25 p.m.

Or it's because Norway and Japan have different styles with regards to eating. As in people in Norway and Japan tend to eat foods that are natural and not artificial, foods filled with preservatives, trans fats.


Fri, Dec 23, 2011 : 12:50 a.m.

Way to understand a fraction of the issue. It's not just a food issue - it's an energy imbalance resulting from many and varied lifestyle choices.

Macabre Sunset

Thu, Dec 22, 2011 : 8:48 p.m.

There are also more ball-point pens in developed nations than in undeveloped nations. Hence ball-point pens lead to obesity, according to this guy.


Fri, Dec 23, 2011 : 12:52 a.m.

Totally agree - this is lousy work. I wonder how much grant money was donated by taxpayers to come up with this nonsense.

Macabre Sunset

Thu, Dec 22, 2011 : 10:53 p.m.

The point I was making was that correlation doesn't necessarily equal causation, something that has obviously escaped the esteemed "professor" with the political chip on his shoulder.


Thu, Dec 22, 2011 : 9:05 p.m.

Having read the article, I believe the study examined the relationship between the number of fast food outlets in the United States and Canada versus those in other developed nations like Norway or Japan, suggesting a possible correlation to the rates of obesity in those nations. Agree or disagree with Professor Vogli ("this guy"), undeveloped nations were not mentioned the article and are likely not included in the study .


Thu, Dec 22, 2011 : 5:32 p.m.

A new way to attack Capitalism at which I bet even Karl Marx would be astounded. In addition to alienation and class warfare, Capitalism makes you fat. I can just hear old Karl saying, "Why didn't I think of that?" Take that, Ayn Rand!


Thu, Dec 22, 2011 : 4:55 p.m.

Watch for the "FOOD NAZI's"


Thu, Dec 22, 2011 : 4:43 p.m.

All OVERWEIGHT ISSUES are causes by stubborn insulin (Pets included) 1. If you cannot lose weight it is caused by stubborn insulin (regardless of if you have diabetes) 2. Diets like Weight Watchers do not reverse stubborn insulin 3. When researchers used a Specialized diabetes diet in Holland people reverse stubborn insulin and received a normal blood sugar level. This information is hidden by the drug companies just google SPIRIT HAPPY DIET


Fri, Dec 23, 2011 : 9:56 p.m.

Shenanigans. If you consume few enough calories, you'll lose weight period. ...if you exercise vigorously, you will lose more. You're just making excuses for being fat.


Thu, Dec 22, 2011 : 4:56 p.m.

I will!


Thu, Dec 22, 2011 : 4:09 p.m.

Without a conscious connection between food choices EVERY DAY and our level of physical exertion EVERY DAY, almost any American will become fat. …except those whose bodies do not efficiently turn calories in to fat so can eat almost anything and remain fit – ironically those are also the people who would have probably starved to death during the winter 20,000 years ago.


Thu, Dec 22, 2011 : 4:07 p.m.

This is just another socialist pushing an anti business agenda wrapped in pseudo science. "It's the corporations, it's the corporations!" It's more startling to me that any news outlet would publish such obvious gibberish. America is fat because of many reasons but the most basic is that our metabolisms have not changed in 20 thousand years so confused why survival suddenly takes so little effort at a time when calories are cheap and plentiful. American bodies still store fat for what used to be long dangerous winters during the last ice age! Americans are fat because our standard of living is so high. Unlike the Japanese, we drive everywhere, walk little, exert little and live in the suburbs where be bring groceries by the trunk full. Many of us who don't see the danger, feel no relation between exertion and eating so quickly exceed the number of calories necessary to sustain our lifestyles. Some of us then try to exercise off the extra energy, which rarely works in the long run. By the way, this is another reason to rely more on mass transit, which requires a lot of walking. All those "evil corporations" simply do what businesses do, which is to offer options of calorie dense food that tastes great. If I was an iron worker burning 5000 calories a day erecting steel buildings in the cold, I'd be enjoying them to. Like all socialists and communists, the average citizen is considered a child in need of guidance by the great leader government who's duty is to remove choices that it deems unnecessary or harmful for dimwitted masses. Of course Solyndra reminds us of how "brilliant" these arrogant government drones really are.


Thu, Dec 22, 2011 : 4:55 p.m.



Thu, Dec 22, 2011 : 4 p.m.

I'd like to add our tendency to celebrate every little moment with food, sweet and fatty food. This is especially true in the elementary schools where we are helping our kids create unhealthy habits by bringing in cupcakes and cookies for every holiday and birthday.


Thu, Dec 22, 2011 : 3:43 p.m.

Here's my take. We're all such a bunch of cheapskates that we go batty when we can get more for less. The fast food industry is perfect for this view as they provide huge amounts of calories for not that much money.


Thu, Dec 22, 2011 : 3:02 p.m.

There is no way on Earth some of the statistics in this article are correct. &quot;But in Japan, which has relatively restrictive trade policies, about 3 percent of individuals are overweight. There's also much fewer fast food restaurants. On average, there are 1.3 fast food restaurants per 1 million people. In Norway, there are about two restaurants per 1 million individuals and the obesity rate is 6.4 percent for men and 5.9 percent for women.&quot; There are over 3,500 McDonald's ALONE in Japan (with a population of 127 million) and 55 in Norway (with a population of 5 million). <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>


Fri, Dec 23, 2011 : 5:14 a.m.

I think the reporter got the data wrong. The actual study used Subway as a measure of the diffusion of fast food restaurants and used an indicator x 100,000 not 1 million. Read this: <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>


Thu, Dec 22, 2011 : 3:16 p.m.

Yeah, so what? There are 55 McDonald's within a 30 minute drive of my house...


Thu, Dec 22, 2011 : 2:59 p.m.

More liberal claptrap about the evils of free market economies. This is what makes people obese: eating more calories than you burn. Not trade restrictions.


Fri, Dec 23, 2011 : 4:34 a.m.

Once somebody dares to say a word about the &quot;great&quot; free market economy, Americans are as outraged as the Poles if somebody dares to criticise their Pope. Try to go beyond these narrow definitions of &quot;the evils of free marker economies&quot;. But if you don't understand the article, let me summarise it for you: the countries with less restricted food economy (such as the USA, UK, Australia, Canada) allow big corporations/food chains (such as McDonalds,Subway) to grow without a limit kicking out of business small farmers and their oragnic food. The result is that the intrest of market OVERWEIGHTED (nice word in this context:) people's well-being: it doesn't matter if they sell harmful stuff as long as it makes money. In Japan people aren't as obese as here because they don't allow the junk food to flood their market. Also, if you are not rich, you are quite likely to end up eating fast food because in the States there is not much choice apart from it (and I lived in other six countries so far so I know what I ma talking about!). So do you think that the poor (and they are MANY here!) would bother to count their calories (or have the time to exercise!!) if fast food is by far the cheapest option i the country...?


Thu, Dec 22, 2011 : 2:54 p.m.

The federal government promotes or at least protects the use of grains (corn is a grain), HFCS, seed oils, petroleum derived artificial food additives, etc, while discouraging the consumption of meat, animal fat, raw milk to the point of sending SWAT teams to family farms, often blocking small-scale food production with zoning laws, etc. Somewhere between the free-market capitalism we used to have and the corporatist Big Ag we have today people started getting fat. Maybe we need less of Big Brother &quot;helping&quot; us? Go read &quot;The Paleo Solution&quot; by Robb Wolf, or at least some of the info on Meat, good fats and veggies are good for you. The high carb stuff fast food restaurants sell because that's what Big Brother subsidizes isn't good for you. It's not just about calories. What you eat is critically important.

Ron Granger

Thu, Dec 22, 2011 : 2:51 p.m.

The availability of cheap, hog-size meals is driven by the availability of cheap ingredents. That relates to the economy and markets. It makes perfect sense. But also, corporations like McDonalds greatly influence - some would say control and drive - those markets. Particularly beef. So my butcher says. I just wish the US would stop protecting sugar prices so we could have sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup.


Thu, Dec 22, 2011 : 2:49 p.m.

I ate fast food for lunch 5 days a week. I was also running a lot. Then I watched &quot;Supersize Me&quot; and I stopped eating fast food. Within 1 week my pace per mile improved by over 30 seconds. About a year later I ate a Whopper for lunch and I ended up going home early with a migraine, my first one in over a year. See a connection? Fast food is poison. It's very filling and cheap and convenient and some of it even tastes pretty good, but it is still poison.


Thu, Dec 22, 2011 : 2:34 p.m.

A proper diet: Calories burned = Calories intake. Proper weight maintained; add 30 min of daily excercise. 1) Grocery store isles are laced with cookies and candies. Every isle. People are enticed to snarf them up. 2) Fast foods are only a part of it. 3) A society too sedentary. Only a small percentage of people exercise regularly. 4) Overweight has become too acceptable in today's society. The 100 years ago arguement should take into account that there was much more manual labor. There were very few desk jobs, thus people were more active. Modern technology has made all of our lives easy and convenient.


Thu, Dec 22, 2011 : 2:47 p.m.

exactly the point - we worked harder 100 years ago and ate with no rules and we were healthier as a people - in regards to diet we could stock all shelves with fruit and outlaw fast food - but PEOPLE have to decide to not be lazy and have discipline

Michigan Man

Thu, Dec 22, 2011 : 2:26 p.m.

No surprise here. Have only know this for 50+ years! Hope this U of M academic is not in the 1% of the U of M salaried professors? It this the new cutting edge research coming out of U of M these days? I thought Ann Arbor had the smartest people in the USA?


Thu, Dec 22, 2011 : 2:30 p.m.

Hey, you and I are here so Ann Arbor is still ok.


Thu, Dec 22, 2011 : 2:24 p.m.

By the way, as any good researcher should know, correlation (in this case, a correlation between number of fast food restaurants and obesity rate) is not the same as causation. As an example, one sees a lot of umbrellas on rainy days. If people would just put those umbrellas away, the rain will stop.


Thu, Dec 22, 2011 : 2:20 p.m.

The problem is NOT fast food. The problem is refined carbohydrates such as white flour and sugar / high fructose corn syrup. Watch the movie &quot;Fat Head&quot; .... very educational and entertaining as well. <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>


Thu, Dec 22, 2011 : 2:18 p.m.

Two things: 1) This is not a free market economy by any stretch of the imagination. 2) The people who make the choices to overeat or eat unhealthily only have themselves to blame.


Thu, Dec 22, 2011 : 2:14 p.m.

So basically, the more you eat the fatter you get. How do I get paid to do these studies?


Thu, Dec 22, 2011 : 1:48 p.m.

A hundred years ago less than one in one hundred Americans were obese and coronary heart disease was unknown. Pneumonia, diarrhea and enteritis, and tuberculosis were the most common causes of death. Now, a century later, the two most common causes of death are coronary heart disease and cancer, which account for 75 percent of all deaths in this country. There were 500 cardiologists practicing in the U.S. in 1950. There are 30,000 of them now – a 60-fold increase for a population that has only doubled since 1950. - this was taken from a clinical journal what did they eat 100 years ago? Beef? Yes. Lots of it. Butter? yes. Eggs? Yes. Whole milk? Yes. Did they could with animal fat? YES and now, we have all of these options and restrictions in place and we are more unhealthy that ever? Crisco was introduced 100 years ago. In 1984 the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer advocacy group,started to coerce fast-food restaurants and the food industry to stop baking and frying food with animal fats and tropical oils. McDonalds fried its French fries with beef fat and palm oil.--- see a connection? I could go on ... read more here: <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>


Thu, Dec 22, 2011 : 5:18 p.m.

Lumberg, As measured in life expectancy, we are generally "healthier" than we were in the 1950s; the average life expectancy of a male at birth has increased from about 64 years in 1950 to almost 76 years in 2005. It's the *quality* of life that is at issue with these soaring obesity rates. And yes, I do think this is a complex issue. I think there is a natural inclination to seek simple answers to very difficult problems. I'm afraid celebrity fad diets, magic pills, late-night TV exercise gurus, and conspiracy theories from fringe political commentators are not going to be part of the solution to this national health emergency. There seems to be a very poor understanding of diet and nutrition in this country. Educating children from an early age about how to take care of their bodies and make healthy lifestyle choices is going to be critical in combating this epidemic. And, as with the fight against polio, the government is going to have to play an active role


Thu, Dec 22, 2011 : 4:19 p.m.

People 100 years ago also didn't sit on their big behinds all day staring at the boob tube. They walked most places and worked outside and did lots of active things.


Thu, Dec 22, 2011 : 4:12 p.m.

Um...a hundred years ago we didn't have antibiotics, so a good deal of the things that were fatal to us before the 1940s are now treatable. and we were healthier back then weren't we? I dont think its that complex - we eat too much and dont exercise and govt intervention has exaserbated, not helped, the problem


Thu, Dec 22, 2011 : 4:06 p.m.

Um...a hundred years ago we didn't have antibiotics, so a good deal of the things that were fatal to us before the 1940s are now treatable. Cardiology in the 1950s was in its infancy; it's kind of like saying &quot;there were only seven astronauts in the U.S. in 1961&quot; to make a point about the number of astronauts in 2011. The reasons for the current epidemic of obesity in the United States are complex, and the solution will require changes in diet, activity, and overall lifestyle for many people. The CDC has a great site dealing with the issue of obesity in children (where, in my opinion, our efforts should be most directed). It does a good job of knocking down some common myths and misconceptions surrounding this issue. <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>

Stupid Hick

Thu, Dec 22, 2011 : 2:31 p.m.

I knew it! Government regulations are the cause of coronary heart disease and cancer, and butter cures obesity!


Thu, Dec 22, 2011 : 2:17 p.m.

You hit the nail on the head!

Wolf's Bane

Thu, Dec 22, 2011 : 1:48 p.m.

Gluttony in most cases is self induced. Unless you have an extremely slow metabolic rate or problems with your thyroid, you have no excuse for being a fat! Get it together folks.


Thu, Dec 22, 2011 : 1:29 p.m.

So if I understand correctly, the invisible hand of the free market is shoving junk food into the invisible mouth of the free market.


Thu, Dec 22, 2011 : 1:19 p.m.

This is junk. Trade restrictions reduce the amount of fast food restaurants? How much food is McDonald's really importing?!?! Face it America. We are weak-willed and lazy. THAT is why we are so fat.


Fri, Dec 23, 2011 : 5 a.m.

&quot;Face it America. We are weak-willed and lazy.&quot; Perhaps we are also too poor to afford eating in other places than fast food restaurants; or even better! Perhaps there is no much option apart from eating in McDonalds, Taco Bells, Wendys, Subways, KFCs etc; (and you must agree: one needs to eat something) so perhaps (!) some restrictions would be quite useful to keep the small organic farms on the market (what chances do they have competing with corporations?). But is easy for us to talk: we leave in rich Ann Arbor and we can afford buying stuff from Zingermann,; we have sport facilities and educated parents who did not feed us with junk. Go 10 miles outside the town and see if you can blame people, who work like hell for nothing, for being &quot;weak-willed&quot;.


Thu, Dec 22, 2011 : 12:46 p.m.

So more unhealthy choices means people will make more unhealthy choices? Not sure if right...