Public Health Nutrition

Research Paper

Obesogenic environments – aspects on measurement and indicators

Liselotte Schäfer Elindera1 c1 and Martin Janssona1

a1 Unit of Applied Nutrition, Stockholm Centre for Public Health, Stockholm County Council, Box 175 33, S-118 91 Stockholm, Sweden


Background The focus in understanding the causes of and preventing obesity has broadened from the individual level to include the obesogenic environment. Proving a causal relationship between environmental factors and eating patterns poses a great challenge because randomised controlled trials are seldom possible or feasible to conduct. Interactions between the environment and individuals are beginning to be explored in multilevel studies and qualitative and sociological research.

Aim The aim is to give an overview of the wider environmental determinants of diet such as the national food supply, food availability and accessibility in different settings as well as the economic food environment and in relation to socio-economic status.

Results The indicators suggested are based on the amount of data available in the scientific literature and the potential for intervention. They can be used to monitor societal interventions or evaluate ‘natural’ changes in the food environment. The indicators are of relevance to the Second WHO European Action Plan for Food and Nutrition Policy 2007–2012.

Conclusion The relatively weak empirical evidence does not imply the absence of causal relationships between environmental factors and diet. Potentially relevant factors have not been evaluated due to the complexity of the task and to lack of political will to change the food environment in a more healthy direction by use of legislation or economic instruments. Future intervention research, targeting the wider environmental determinants of diet, will give us better evidence to propose societal actions to counteract obesity and to strike the right balance between individual and societal action.

(Received September 21 2007)

(Accepted March 20 2008)


c1 Corresponding author: Email