Can environmental changes reduce obesity?
Has seeing the number of calories in your favorite takeout dish made you rethink your dinner choice? Are you inspired to get moving now that there is a new walking path close to your home? Have you lost weight since the farmers’ market pulled into town?
These are the kinds of questions that researchers at Drexel University School of Public Health were hoping to answer. Researchers gathered information to determine which kinds of interventions – soda bans, walking paths, etc. – were most successful in improving obesity-related outcomes.
What did they find?
In terms of diet and food policy changes, those with strong impacts were ones that improved the nutritional quality of foods, including:
- Banning trans fats
- Limiting sugary food and beverages
- Limiting higher-fat foods
“It is not surprising that changes in the nutritional quality of foods had a strong impact,” says Sandra Gifford, registered dietitian at Advocate BroMenn Medical Center in Normal, Ill. “Having less trans fats, sugary foods and beverages, and high-fat foods available reduces food temptations and impulse eating. This fosters better food choices and promotes better intake of fruits and vegetables, and less processed foods.”
In the area of physical activity, changes with stronger impacts included:
- Active transportation infrastructure improvements
- Changes studied after longer-term follow-up periods
More research is needed to look at physical activity effects (not just use of amenities) for environment changes. The authors concluded that evidence is still lacking on whether environmental and policy modifications are successful in maintaining healthy weight or reducing excess weight.
“Research suggests that people will use new amenities like bike shares, and limit purchases of unhealthy foods in specific contexts like schools,” said Stephanie Mayne, doctoral student at Drexel who led the review. “But it is less clear whether these changes translate into overall improvements in diet and physical activity.”
About the Author
Lynn Hutley, health enews contributor, is coordinator of public affairs and marketing at Advocate BroMenn Medical Center and Advocate Eureka Hospital in central Illinois. Having grown up in a family-owned drug store, it is no surprise that Lynn has spent almost 18 years working in the health care industry. She has a degree in human resources management from Illinois State University and is always ready to tackle Trivia Night.