Late last year we heard that obesity had replaced hunger as the world’s biggest food problem. Here is just a sample from that report:
According to CNN’s analysis of the study, obesity rates have increased 82 percent worldwide over the past two decades. Obesity is now a problem in all countries except for those in sub-Saharan Africa, and its associated complications produce health burdens higher than those caused by hunger.
OK … so if obesity is such a challenge, then WHAT should we do? That is exactly what a poll conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research asked.
As reported at Greatist, the somewhat good news is that 75% of Americans think obesity is a serious health problem in the U.S. (why only 75%?), but aside from that there is no broad consensus on what to DO about it.
Most people recall NYC Mayor Bloomberg banning sale of drinks larger than 24 oz, and the nationwide freak-out that resulted as people worried about the intrusion on their personal liberties. Did they worry about the health issues, the rising cost on all of us as the nation as a whole gets fatter and less healthy? Of course not, because as with so many other debates the protection of perceived liberties is much more important than the protection of actual life.
So we know that popular pressure will not help get action around dealing with obesity. And given that the processed food lobbies are pretty much as powerful as the NRA, we can be sure we will never see legislative action, because if we care more about keeping our military grade arsenals than we do about protecting yet another group of kids from getting brutally slaughtered, you can be sure that there will be nothing done to help the more than 50% of our kids who are overweight or obese.
Government action CAN be effective: the 2010 world obesity number show that while the U.S. continued to rise sharply, “obesity rates have significantly slowed or stopped in England, Hungary, Italy, Korea and Switzerland, and have grown only slightly France and Spain.” How? The nations have passed legislation that imposed higher taxes on fatty and sugary foods. Simple, and apparently effective – they took the health risk seriously and acted … and got results.
Of course, the counter-argument is quite valid: look at what the government does when they get involved with kids and food! A child who eats ‘government approved’ school lunches is 30% more likely to end up obese than those who brought lunch from home. Any knowledgeable parent who looks at the food served in most schools today will not think of it as ‘healthy’ or ‘balanced … and will more likely be reminded of the Reagan administration trying to allow schools to count ketchup as a vegetable in order to deal with subsidy cuts.
But the clock is ticking – every couple of years we get a new obesity report, and guess what? It keeps getting worse. The easy argument is that it is a matter of personal responsibility – and that is at least partially true. But as we have discussed in the past, the foods we buy now have different chemistry than 50 years ago do to the overproduction of corn, GMO infestation, rampant use of chemical treatments … not to mention the degree to which natural foods have been replaced with ‘healthier’ options loaded with HFCS and other additives. So simple ‘personal responsibility’ is less simple when you can eat less food and gain more weight simply because of the chemistry of how the foods are put together.
One thing IS clear: Obesity IS an epidemic, and our country is the #1 fattest developed country in the world – and by quite a large margin. I am not one to have the government impose new regulations, but it is clear that our current system of letting the fast food industry make the rules and laws is having the expected outcome … and that needs to change.