Toxic food environment

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A food environment is a collection of physical, biological and social factors that affect an individual or a group of individuals eating habits and patterns.

The term toxic food environment was coined by Kelly D. Brownell in his book Food Fight: The Inside Story of the Food Industry to describe American culture at the end of the 20th century, one that fosters and promotes obesity and unprecedented food consumption.

Brownell is a Yale professor and director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale.

He uses the term “toxic” to describe unparalleled exposure to high-calorie, high-fat, heavily marketed, inexpensive, and readily accessible foods. The toxic environment is the result of ubiquity of unhealthy, processed foods, an increasingly sedentary lifestyle in which individuals spend more time watching TV and using computers than they spend exercising, the explosion of fast food restaurants, the enormous growth of portion sizes, the power of food advertising and marketing, and the junk food industry’s take-over of schools by selling unhealthy items in vending machines, cafeterias, and through school fundraisers.

Brownell and many of his colleagues attribute the nation’s obesity epidemic to the toxic environment. In 1995, the Institute of Medicine noted that the human gene pool has not undergone any real change over the past several decades, when obesity has been on the rise. Therefore, the root of the obesity crisis must lie in the environment-- the social and cultural forces that promote an over-abundance of food and eating, and a deficit of physical activity.

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Further reading[edit]

  • Actions necessary to prevent childhood obesity: Creating the climate for change. Schwartz, MB and Brownell, KB (2007). Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics. Spring; 35(1):78-89.
  • Television food advertising: Targeting children in a toxic environment. Horgen, KB, Choate, M and Brownell, KD (2001). In D.G. Singer and J.L. Singer (eds.), Handbook of children and the media. Sage: California. Pp. 447-61.
  • Obesity: Responding to the Global Epidemic. Wadden, TA, Brownell, KD, Foster, GD.

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