An Oxford University study published this year in the journal Economics and Human Biology found that citizens’ exposure to the economic swings of a free-market system leads to stress, which in turn leads to obesity. Between 1994 and 2004, the greatest prevalence of obesity occurred in the United States, where a third of the population tipped the scales.
The study’s lead author, Avner Offer, the Chichele Professor of History at the University of Oxford, said he and his colleagues hypothesize that free markets stimulate competition in the work environment, and those influences undermine feelings of stability and security.
“Animals, both in captivity and in the wild, have been found to increase their food intake when they are faced with uncertainty about their future food supply,” Offer said.
So who are the other "heavyweight" champions of the world? Britons, Canadians and Australians ranked just behind the Yanks. Nations with greater job and income security were associated with lower levels of obesity. Citizens of Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Spain and Sweden, whose governments offer stronger social protections, proved to be relatively svelte.
Incidentally, the Oxford study also examined fast food’s contribution to the obesity epidemic, and the surveys said… not so much. Fast food registered only half the wallop of economic insecurity in prompting folks to overeat.