How did the populations of advanced economies grow so much fatter? The potential contribution of time use and other evidence on the social organisation of eating

Seminar presented by Emeritus Professor Michael Bittman

12:00pm Tuesday 13 March 2018

Paul Barratt Lecture Theatre, UNE


Since 1945, growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has been the yardstick most widely used for measuring economic progress and average GDP per person the yardstick for cross-national welfare. Since GDP is essentially a measure of the market economy, this focus has led to a neglect of the non-market economy. Neglecting the ‘non-market’ economy, and its contribution to welfare, means overlooking the profound changes that have occurred in the organisation of eating amongst English-speaking countries. Using information from time use surveys, it can be shown that from the mid-1960s to the late 1990s, the average time devoted to eating in these countries reduced by roughly one third. This is true for the USA, Canada, the UK and Australia. Moreover, this change has been accompanied by similarly dramatic reduction in home preparation of food, more individualised eating, reliance on commercial substitutes and steep increases in ‘mindless eating’. By 2014-15 unhealthy weight in Australia had reached epidemic proportions, with 63.4% of those aged 18 years and over overweight or obese. The financial burden of associated diseases with overweight/obesity -- type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, depression, colorectal cancer and osteoporosis, etc. – place substantial pressure on health and welfare expenditure. This paper considers the social changes that might aid in restoring the mindful organisation of eating and improving the health and welfare of Australians.

Launch Seminar Recording