[ASC-media] Media release: the economics of obesity

JCA Media jca.media at starclass.com.au
Mon Aug 14 01:14:56 CEST 2006

International Association of Agricultural Economists 26th Conference
Gold Coast Convention Centre, Qld, Australia
August 12-18, 2006	   ph 07 5504 4057


Monday, August 14, 2006							IAAE16


Persuading overweight people to walk a few more steps each day should have a high priority in economic policy planning, says Professor Benjamin Senauer of the University of Minnesota. 

Professor Senauer is addressing the International Association of Agricultural Economics conference on Australia's Gold Coast today (August dd, 2006). 

Professor Senauer and Professor Masahiko Gemma of Waseda University in Japan have made a detailed comparison of Japanese and American lifestyles. Japan has one of the lowest and the United States one of the highest rates of obesity in the world.

"Few Japanese can be considered overweight, though the number is growing," says Professor Senauer. "In the United States obesity has reached epidemic proportions with some two-thirds of the adult population being clinically overweight or obese."

The Japanese are far more physically active than Americans, says Professor Senauer, though this is not because they go to the gym more frequently. The average Japanese male walks more than four miles a day, and even Japanese females aged more than 70 average over two miles daily.

Sedentary Americans may only walk 1000 to 3000 steps per day, and almost a quarter of American adults fall into this category, says Professor Senauer.

Professor Senauer says that domestic economic policy can be adjusted to improve a nation's health, in particular the pricing of food.

"As any visitor to Japan will testify, food is far more expensive than in the United States," he says. "The average Japanese household spends almost a quarter of its income on food, compared to under 14% in the USA.

"As well as this, there is the cultural difference where the Japanese regard quality and appearance of what they eat as important as mere quantity," he says. "Japanese consumers are willing to pay for quality."

An important economic factor underpinning the Japanese lifestyle is the high cost of owning and operating a motor vehicle in Japan. This includes the price of fuel and parking, and a prohibitive rate of taxation.

"Japanese cities are based on efficient public transport - and walking," he says. "The average American commutes to work, drives to the supermarket, and does as little walking as possible."

Professor Senauer says that a direct tax on food in the USA, to lessen consumption and so reduce obesity, would not be politically acceptable, though agricultural subsidies, which result in cheap food, might be reduced.

"Less direct incentives such as policies to raise the cost of driving and encourage the use of public transport would help increase physical activity and reduce overweight among Americans," he says. "Combating the problem of obesity involves public education, public transport, town planning and energy policy.

"Obesity and overweight bring with them significant risks of chronic disease and prem and adjusting domestic policy to encourage a less sedentary lifestyle is literally a matter of life and death."

Professor Senauer says that while the relative cost of food has decreased over time, especially the cost of calories and fat, technology has eliminated much of the need for physical activity during work or for mobility.

"For most Americans, getting significant physical activity now requires a conscious commitment to exercise, and often also involves a monetary cost - the price of a round of golf, or membership of a gym."

The International Association of Agricultural Economists (IAAE) 26th Annual Conference on "The Contribution of Agricultural Economics to Critical Policy Issues" is at the Gold Coast Convention Centre, Qld, from August 12-18, 2006.

More information:
IAAE media centre, Gold Coast Convention Centre, +61 (0)7 5504 4057
Professor Benjamin Senauer, University of Minnesota, +1 612 625 5724
Media contact: Prof. Julian Cribb, 0418 639245
Conference program & details:

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