Food Environment and Obesity

15 May 2024

By 2035, 1.35 billion people worldwide will be living with obesity (World Obesity Atlas 2024). Obesity is a chronic complex disease defined by excessive fat deposits that can impair health (WHO, World health Organization) and it is becoming a more widespread problem worldwide, affecting every continent. This condition is a critical risk factor for non-communicable diseases (NCDs), and it is influenced by a complex, multifaceted system of determinants, including the food environment

Unfortunately, today, there are widespread misconceptions that obesity is a consequence of individual choices, which leads to stigmatization and discrimination. The traditional concept that obesity is caused by a lack of human responsibility must be challenged, as it fails to account for the numerous physiological, biochemical, genetic, social, cultural, and environmental elements that can influence someone’s risk of obesity.  

For instance, the world around us is growing more and more obesogenic—that is, it is creating conditions that encourage obesity. 

According to a recent systematic review and meta-analysis that explores the link between food environment and obesity, areas close to food establishments which sell mostly unhealthy and ultra-processed foods were associated with higher levels of obesity, while fruit and vegetable availability and supermarket accessibility, which enable healthier food access, were related to lower levels of obesity 

The association between the retail food environments and obesity also varies significantly by geographical measure: fast-food outlets, often closer to residential areas or on the pathways from school or the office to home, provide convenient access to high-calorie, processed foods, which can contribute to higher obesity rates among nearby residents.  
This highlights the significant role of the retail food environment accessibility in influencing dietary behaviors and obesity prevalence.  

The access to supermarkets offering a variety of healthy products is also limited by lower socioeconomic areas leading to a reliance on closer, often less expensive fast-food restaurants contributing to higher obesity rates in these populations.  

To better address this problem, it is important to understand the ‘in-store food environment’, encompassing product placement, promotion strategies and food layout which plays a pivotal role in shaping dietary habits.
In order to promote healthier choices, policymakers should concentrate on internal dynamics and enact laws that target the placement and promotion of food goods within stores. In addition, by carefully situating health-promoting establishments in residential neighborhoods, urban planners can have an impact on health outcomes while also supporting the idea of creating a “healthy food environment.” 


Food environment and obesity: a systematic review and meta-analysis | BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health 

The science of obesity (

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