Exporting American Obesity

Are we exporting American obesity to the global south? Will the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal accelerate the export of obesity to Asia and limit policy options for curbing it? These are reasonable questions to ask, but no one seems really interested in answering them in the midst of a hot debate about this trade deal.

The white hot political ideological debate about the trade deal is crossing party lines and creating an odd alignment between tea party conservatives and the liberal wing of the Democratic party. This week, Mark Bittman and other observers suggested that the TPP will accelerate the spread of junk food by multi-national corporations to Asian countries participating in the deal. At the same time, it will limit the ability of local health authorities to regulate food labeling and marketing, they say.

Naturally, Bittman pointed to NAFTA and credited that trade deal with accelerating the trend that gave the highest obesity rate among major developed countries to Mexico. Never mind that these trends were in play before NAFTA was in place.

But if critics are playing loose with the facts, the administration is countering their claims by simply saying that nutrition and health are beside the point. “It’s not been part of the discussion,” says Cullen Schwartz of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

So that leaves us with some people advancing speculation as facts and others who aren’t really interested in studying the question. It sounds like nutrition policy as usual.

Click here to read more from NPR.

Fatburger, photograph © Håkan Dahlström / flickr

Subscribe by email to follow the accumulating evidence and observations that shape our view of health, obesity, and policy.


2 Responses to “Exporting American Obesity”

  1. May 17, 2015 at 5:35 am, Mary-Jo said:

    According to epidemiology data, obesity prevalence and incidence has been rising in many countries, despite trade agreements and increased availability of ‘American’ processed foods. When critics get all emotional, it undermines their arguments. Now, the focus is on the critics’ ranting instead of calling attention to the very concerning fact that those involved in this trade agreement didn’t even consider the effect(s) of increased availability of highly-processed packaged food items on the nutritional status of populations in the countries involved. With obesity being a costly world-wide epidemic, it’s a discussion that needs to be on the minds of food trade officials. And, it appears that no one is twisting the arms of the officials on the other end of these negotiations. I see this as a missed opportunity on the part of American officials to take the lead in addressing dietary and obesity concerns of countries receiving cheap, highly-processed products. Even a point-of-purchase/consumption study could help elucidate about whether the agreement is, in fact, effecting in the purchase of American-made ‘junk food’ and, thus, contributing to ‘exporting American obesity’. Also, many countries manufacture and distribute their own versions of highly-processed ‘junk’ food items. Without some attempt at trying to see if MAINLY American-made and traded products are exacerbating obesity incidence and prevalence in the countries, there’s nothing to base our arguments on. .Just my humble opinion.

    • May 17, 2015 at 7:43 am, Ted said:

      Well said, Mary Jo. A missed opportunity.