:: Wednesday, June 02, 2004 ::

Food: The New Tobacco

Harvard Magazine: The Way We Eat Now, Ancient bodies collide with modern technology to produce a flabby, disease-ridden populace.

More on the debate around food and obesity. The article above provides some astonishing facts particularly focusing on the obesity explosion in the US. It points to Mediterranean countries like France and Italy as healthier examples, which they are with their 'slow food' culture and greater consumption of foods like olive oil and fresh fish. However the trend even in these countries is towards increased instances of childhood obesity.

The article points out that weight runs a close second to tobacco in the 'cause of death' league tables. And the poor are the worst affected.

"All demographic segments are fattening up, but the growth in adipose tissue isn't random. "The highly educated have only half the level of obesity of those with lower education," Willett says. A recent paper in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition argued that the poor tend toward greater obesity because eating energy-dense, highly palatable, refined foods is cheaper per calorie consumed than buying fish and fresh fruits and vegetables. At the Oldways conference, Foreyt noted that 80 percent of African-American females are overweight, and that Hispanic women were the second-heaviest group. he last to fatten will be rich white women," he observed."

The shortage of time available for food preparation in families where both parents are working is another factor. Now the likes of Norman Tebbit and the right argue that this places the blame with women, who are going out to work instead of staying at home to look after the children and make a nourishing meal for hubby like God intended. In fact if both parents had more time then this could address this problem. One start would be to introduce a 35 hour working week - like the have in France. The Mum and Dad would have more time and be less likely to join the queue at Burger King.

And what about TV and advertising?

"But the most powerful technology driving the obesity epidemic is television. "The best single behavioral predictor of obesity in children and adults is the amount of television viewing," says the School of Public Health's Gortmaker. "The relationship is nearly as strong as what you see between smoking and lung cancer. Everybody thinks it's because TV watching is sedentary, you're just sitting there for hours—but that's only about one-third of the effect. Our guesstimate is that two-thirds is the effect of advertising in changing what you eat." Willett asserts, "You can't expect three- and four-year-olds to make decisions about the long-term consequences of their food choices. But every year they are subjected to intensive and increasingly polished messages promoting foods that are almost entirely junk." (Furthermore, in some future year when the Internet merges with broadband cable TV, advertisers will be able to target their messages far more precisely. "It won't be just to kids," Gortmaker says. "It'll be to your kid.")"

We have already seen this in the UK with highly sophisticated marketing campaigns aimed at kids by makers of sugary cereals. The advertisers are just doing their job. Maybe the politicians should start doing their job. And maybe we all should play our part too. You don't have to knock over a McDonalds like Jose Bove, but fighting for more equality, better access to healthy food for kids through free school meal and other programs, and more control over the food industry and advertising is a start.

Maybe we need to do something before we become even more like the League of Fatties from Judge Dredd!


:: Alister | 12:15 pm | save this page to del.icio.us Save This Page | permalink⊕ | |

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