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Countries with most fast food restaurants have highest obesity rates

Norman Byrd's picture

There seems to be a correlation between the number of fast food restaurants in a given country and whether or not that country has a high obesity rate.

This study isn't going to reflect well on Subway restaurants, the largest fast food chain in the world. (That is correct, Subway passed hamburger giant McDonald's as the fast food chain with the most stores on planet Earth last year.) According to a Critical Public Health study, which looked at the number of Subway restaurants in 26 countries, the higher the number of restaurants in a particular country was correlative to a higher obesity rate within that country.

No, that doesn't look good for Subway at all, especially given its marketing campaigns promoting its low caloric menu.

But the study is fairly clear: The number of Subways can be associated with the obesity rate in 26 separate economies and that includes in both genders.

According to a news release from Critical Public Health, "Even after adjusting for the other factors, countries with the highest density of Subway restaurants (such as the United States and Canada) have a higher prevalence of obesity than countries with a low density (like Norway and Japan)."

The study's authors -- Roberto De Vogliab, Anne Kouvonenc, and David Gimenod -- find blame in the "recent explosion" of fast food restaurants around the globe.

The new release continues: "The authors suggest that the rapid global market integration and trade liberalisation promoted by organisations such as the World Trade Organization – which contribute to an increase in exports of domestic goods, imports of foreign products and the opening of markets to foreign investment – have also played a large part in expanding waistlines. The growth and power of transnational food companies, supermarkets and fast-food restaurants encouraged by such policies has had a dramatic impact on global diets."

Still, there are limitations within the study, which the authors note. The density of fast-food restaurants are not stated to be a causative of obesity, just that the density is associated with it. The study also doesn't take into consideration time, such as when a restaurant appeared and when the obesity rate emerged. In short, the nation may have had an obesity problem prior to the emergence of a large number of Subway restaurants. There is also the limitation that the study only included 26 countries, not to mention just one fast food chain: Subway.

At the same time, the study's title is indicative of its emphasis on attaining an understanding of obesity as a global problem: ‘Globesization’: ecological evidence on the relationship between fast food outlets and obesity among 26 advanced economies." The authors recommend further research into the connections between obesity, fast food and trade liberalisation policies. They also call for a worldwide coordination of policies to deal with the "globalization" of obesity.

This bit of bad news follows quickly on the heels of another study, this one out of UCLA, that noted that eating Subway foods, at least when it comes to adolescents, is no healthier than eating at McDonald's.

It is unclear if such negative information will have much of an effect on revenues for the fast food giant or if the company will take note and attempt to alter their menu to contain healthier items or lower caloric selections.

(photo credit: Terence Ong, Creative Commons)

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