A recent review of literature on the impact of the economic environment on obesity has purportedly concluded that “effective economic measures policies to curb obesity remain elusive.” Roland Sturm and Ruopeng An, “Obesity and Economic Environments,” CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, May 2014. Funded by the National Institutes of Health and RAND Corp., the study finds that U.S. obesity rates have continued to rise across all sociodemographic groups and geographic areas despite “increases in leisure time (rather than increased work hours), increased fruit and vegetable availability (rather than a decline in healthier foods), and increased exercise uptake.”

Calling into question “some widely held, but incorrect, beliefs,” the study’s authors suggest that decreasing prices have played a primary role in food consumption patterns. Noting that consumers today spend only one-tenth of their disposable income on food, the researchers report that taxes on lownutritional foods and other large price interventions “could close only part of the gap between dietary guidelines and actual food consumption.”

“The high cost of healthy food may not be the problem as far as obesity is concerned, rather it is excess availability and affordability of all types of food,” lead author Roland Sturm explained in a May 22, 2014, press release. “We need to consider strategies that replace calorie-dense foods with fruits and vegetables, rather than just add fruits and vegetables to the diet.” Additional details about Sturm’s work on restaurant menu labeling regulations appear in Issue 499 of this Update.