Saturday, 12 December 2015

The place of Christmas in an Obesogenic environment

Like most people I’m thinking about Christmas and food.  That’s either because

a) Like my family, Christmas involves getting together to share a lot of yummy food or
b) in this part of the world it signals the beginning of the holidays and getting into the swimsuit. It is a time of regretting all the food we have been eating through the year or
c) we have a love/hate relationship with food based on a) and b) above

Ah yes ….. our relationship with food. We know that losing weight is an energy in/energy out equation and that what it boils down to is how much we eat and how much we move. An article by Mathew Haines (2015) in the Herald grabbed my attention. Not because it was rocket science but because what it said very succinctly is just so obvious:  We’ve evolved with a metabolism that makes us store fat. The problem is that there aren’t enough controls stopping us from overeating. If we live in an obesogenic environment we cannot use our instincts to tell us how much to eat. We must use our intellect. This, I thought, has got to be a key concept to anyone who wants to control their weight.

If David visits Houston (Sallis, 2009).

Looking at the obesogenic environment looks at the organisational and physical environment and how ethnicity and psychological and social factors affect our food and movement decisions (Sallis, 2009). The trends in the graphs below are alarming. For Pacific people the current obesity rate, according to the Ministry of social Development (2010) is 65% and rising. Aside from the personal cost, the social and financial costs are of great concern. As we struggle to deal with the epidemic we can expect the word “obesogenic” to become part of the vernacular.

Age-standardised prevalence of obesity, total population aged 15 years and over, by sex, 1997, 2002/2003 and 2006/2007

Age-standardised prevalence of obesity, population aged 15 years and over, by ethnic group, 1997, 2002/2003 and 2006/2007
Source: Ministry of Health (Ministry for Social development, 2010)

How does Christmas feature in an obesogenic environment?  Research done in Sweden (I think we can remove the swimsuit factor) indicates that non obese people put on weight over Christmas (Andersson & Rössner, 1992).  The good tidings are if that if you are already obese then Christmas doesn’t make you gain weight. So, you can relax. Enjoy your eating and drinking. There’s always the New Year to think about your place in an obesogenic world.

Andersson, I., & Rössner, S. (1992). The Christmas factor in obesity therapy. Retrieved from
Haines, M. (2015, December 3). Our bodies work against us. The New Zealand Herald, p. 23.
Ministry for Social development. (2010). 2010: The Social Report. Retrieved from

Sallis, J. (2009). Using Research to Create a Less Obesogenic World. Santiago State University. Retrieved from


Cherie Grey said...

I don’t think I can blame Christmas for my weight gain, although I will be trying control how much I eat. Although there will be Christmas cake……

Christina Victoria said...

I'm of Ukrainian, eastern Orthodox Christian background, so my festivity calendar is the wrong way round, marking off New Year's first and Christmas second (on January 7). The main feast traditionally happens on New Year's eve at midnight following a round of toasts. I find that I, and most other people, are too worn out to eat by that time, meaning that most of the food ends up getting packed into the fridge and slowly eaten over the next week as the hangover subsides. By the time Christmas arrives, the whole magic of feasting disappears, eclipsed by the shadow of New Year's. The bright monk who thought it was a good idea to promote this tradition to ensure a little bit more food remained inside the silos over the winter was on the right track.

I suppose obese people had better enjoy the now, because when we will live in a truly obesogenic world where nearly everyone is obese I suppose the government will strictly regulate food out of health concerns.

Jindina Locke said...

Definitely something to remember over the Christmas period. Though I do think Sweden gets a double whammy as Christmas time is also winter time, and that season is my downfall for weight gain. Christmas we are surrounded by parties and social events with foods we might not regularly indulge in. But if you added in winter, where I for one tend to eat more and exercise less (no bikini stress), I imagine it would really take its toll.

I recall hearing recently (can't remember where I'm afraid), that New Zealand is in the top five developed world countries for obesity. A very worrying statistic.