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likely to cause someone to become excessively fat
'We live in an 'obesogenic' environment – a plethora of fast food outlets, reliance on cars, and offers enticing us to eat larger portions …'Professor Mike Kelly – as quoted in Times Online 8th October 2003
in a world dominated by sedentary pursuits and convenience foods, health experts are increasingly concerned about weight problems in young people
Like so many of the new words examined in this series of articles, the term obesogenic has emerged from the need to find new ways of describing the issues surrounding changing lifestyles in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. In a world dominated by sedentary pursuits and convenience foods, health experts are increasingly concerned about weight problems in young people, and we see alarming statistics being reported, such as the classification of one six-year-old in ten as obese in the UK. The term obesogenic is a product of such concerns, as individuals attempt to describe the social factors which have contributed to this so-called 'fat epidemic'. A strong collocate of the term obesogenic is therefore the word environment, as illustrated in the citation above, used in the description of factors such as lack of exercise and increased consumption of pre-prepared foods containing excessive sugar and fats. The related noun obesogen is a recent coining in medical contexts to refer to foods more likely to cause obesity.
Another new term which has arisen from examination of the influence of social factors on dietary health is the expression food desert, used to refer to an area where people experience geographical and financial problems in accessing healthy food. The term emerged in the late 1990s amid comment on the closure of local food shops and the inaccessibility of larger 'out-of-town' supermarkets to poorer housing estates. The word desert has subsequently been used more generally by the media to talk about the lack of any kind of essential retail facility, e.g. money deserts has been used to describe poorer areas of London where major banks have closed local branches.
The word obesogenic first appeared around 1996. It was developed from a blend of the word obese and, by analogy with terms like carcinogenic (causing cancer), -genic as a suffix meaning 'tending to create'. Its antonym, derived from the Greek leptos (meaning 'thin' or 'delicate'), is leptogenic, an established term in the medical context of leptogenic drugs (drugs which aid weight reduction).
This article was first published on 21st November 2003.
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