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How Does Obesity Spread?

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The obesity epidemic is the result of multiple, complex and interacting dynamics, which have progressively converged to produce lasting changes in people's lifestyles. Remarkable changes in the supply, availability and prices of food in the second half of the 20th century, in line with major changes in food production technologies and marketing approaches, decreased physical activity at work, and changes in labour markets and conditions heavily influenced lifestyles and contributed to the obesity epidemic. This chapter explores some of the key determinants of health and their role in the obesity epidemic. The question is addressed of whether the changes that fuelled obesity and chronic diseases are simply the outcome of efficient market dynamics, or the effect of market and rationality failures preventing individuals from achieving more desirable outcomes. Social multiplier effects (the clustering and spread of overweight and obesity within households and social networks) are shown to be especially relevant to the formulation of effective policies to tackle obesity.
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Document Type: Review Article

Publication date: 01 September 2010

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