Would we super-size everything?

The problems of being overweight and obese in Australian are widespread and increasing. In 2001 it was estimated that over 50% of the adult Australian population were overweight or obese, an increase of more than 25% since the decade previous.

Overweight and obesity, at the individual level, is a complex interaction of many elements. At the level of the population, however, it is really just an imbalance between energy in (food intake) and energy out (physical activity).

The movie ‘Super Size Me’ is squarely placing the blame for America’s (and Australia’s) growing waistline on one company – MacDonald’s. Like many things in life, it is preferable to find simple answers to often complex issues, and this is no exception.

Scientific evidence, however, indicates that the increase in overweight and obesity in many of the developed countries of the world is more strongly related to lower levels of physical activity than to increased energy intake.

Still, the concept of super-sizing is an interesting one. People are drawn to get ‘better’ value by purchasing a larger volume of food for only a small amount of extra money. Super-sizing reduces the cost per calorie, which – even though it adds to the total cost of the item – seems an appealing concept to many consumers.

Imagine if we marketed physical activity (energy expenditure) the same way. “For only a few dollars more your television set comes with no remote control, allowing you to burn even more calories each time you want to change a channel”.

Over the past few decades the amount of food energy consumed by the average Australian has increased slightly – the equivalent of about one slice of bread a day. In an effort to control the expanding waistline of the nation we must be conscious of this increased intake, but the focus must remain on keeping, or increasing energy expenditure through physical activity and exercise. Now if we could just figure out how to super-size that!