Changing our obesogenic environment

by Kellie Dye

The term “obesogenic” came into existence about 10 years ago. If you look up obesogenic, you will find the word to mean the promotion of excess weight gain.

Obesogenic describes an environment in which there are tasty, cheap foods available in abundance combined with little reason for physical activity. During the past 30 years the percentage of adults who are obese has doubled. The percentage of children who are overweight has doubled, and the percentage of teens who are overweight has tripled. Two thirds of US adults are overweight or obese. I would venture to say that we are living in an obesogenic environment.

Take a look around your own environment with fresh eyes. Look in your pantry and refrigerator. What foods are front and center? What foods are pushed to the back? How many foods are processed and have very little nutritional value? Are there any fresh fruits or vegetables in your refrigerator? Upon your next grocery store trip, before you check out, look into your shopping cart. Are there more boxes and packages of processed foods than there are fresh, recognizable foods? How much time did you spend in the produce section? Look around your house noting remote controls, things piled up on the dining room table, TV in close proximity to where you eat or a stove top or oven that is rarely used. How many fast food restaurants are conveniently close to where you live or work? You don’t have to move to make your environment healthier, but you can take measures that can lead to healthier outcomes.

Achieving health is about changing your environment to make it match what you want your habits to be. For example, if you typically snack on the couch while watching TV, then you may always associate the couch with snacking. If you change what’s in your grocery cart, pantry and refrigerator, then your snacking options will change. If you make a rule to not eat in front of the TV or change snacking to knitting for example, then you have reduced your obesogenic environment. Eating in front of the TV may reduce our awareness by interfering with our ability to remember what and how much we just ate.

Other ways to make your environment more health supporting might include changing from large plates to smaller plates, buying smaller portion foods instead of foods in large bulk containers. All of these measures have been shown to reduce calories eaten.

You can also look for ways to add more activity to your day. All of the things you have heard before do help to increase your activity such as parking far away, taking the stairs instead of elevators, raking leaves instead of using a leaf blower and standing in place of sitting.

Many years ago we looked for ways to add convenience to our daily life. In many ways all of the conveniences have led to poorer health and less activity. Convenient, fast foods offer little nutrition. Remote controls, garage door openers, riding lawn mowers have reduced our need for activity. Centuries ago no one would have thought that there would be a need for a stationary bike or a treadmill. Now we have to go out of our way to look for ways to move more and eat less. Our present environment makes it challenging, but with some extra thought and creativity, it can be done.


Kellie Dye, a registered and licensed dietitian, is the wellness coordinator at the Conway Regional Health and Fitness Center. Send your diet and nutrition questions to Kellie at [email protected]. Frequently asked and pertinent questions will be addressed in future articles in 501 LIFE.