According to the results of a recent study, obesity may be a side effect of free market policies. The study was conducted by researchers from the University of Michigan, who evaluated 26 wealthy nations, examining the number of fast food restaurants per capita and comparing it with obesity rates.  For the study, fast food was qualified as food sold in restaurants or stores with preheated or precooked ingredients, which is provided to the customer in a packaged form. A typical fast food meal would be a hamburger, fries and a soda.  Frequenting fast food restaurants has been linked to excess body weight, insulin resistance and type II diabetes, which is another major worldwide public health threat.

The findings indicated that wealthy countries with a higher density of fast food restaurants per capita, such as Canada and United States, had much higher rates of obesity in comparison with countries with a lower density of fast food restaurants per capita—countries like Norway and Japan. The lead researcher of the study, Roberto De Vogli, associate professor in the U-M School of Public Health, explained that it’s not by chance that countries with the highest obesity rates and fast food restaurants are those in the forefront of market liberalization–such as the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand the United Kingdom, versus countries like Japan and Norway, with more regulated and restrictive trade policies.” He continued that since the “1980s with the advent of trade liberalization policies that have indirectly promoted transnational food companies we see obesity rates that have tripled or quadrupled.”

Some of the specific findings included:
• The United States has 7.52 fast food restaurants per 100,000 people and obesity rates of 31.3 percent for men and 33.2 percent for women, respectively.
• Canada has 7.43 fast food restaurants per 100,000 people and obesity rates of 23.2 percent for men and 22.9 percent for women, respectively.
• In Japan, obesity rates are low: 2.9 percent for men and 3.3 percent for women, and Japan has only 0.13 fast food restaurants per 100,000 people.
• Norway also has only 0.19 restaurants per capita and obesity rates for men and women were 6.4 percent and 5.9 percent, respectively.

Another study showed that family members can benefit from bariatric surgery; spouses and children of surgery patients often lose weight as well. This likely comes from more attention in the house to portion size and type of food being served. You can ready about that study here.