Stanley Feld M.D.,FACP,MACE
The nation must declared War on Obesity to save its people from themselves. If you think, about it the problem is we get in our own way. It is time that we recognize that obesity is a disease and we must do everything we can to eliminate it.
I like to think of obesity as a disease with a genetic predisposition precipitated by environmental stimuli leading us to become a nation of overeaters. We as a nation must say we are tired of being manipulated. This will take national leadership and compromise by vested interests that are profiting from the obesity epidemic. The epidemic is decreasing the health of our nation. It will have a devastating effect on the costs of healthcare if not corrected now.
The benefited vested interest is the food industry. They have conditioned us so that as a nation we eat more and more and get fatter and fatter. Presently, our children are also being affected. Childhood Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus is becoming more and more prevalent because of the abuse by the large agribusinesses, the restaurant industry, the snack food industry and the supermarket industry. The abuse is driven by profit margins.
People power along with strong leadership has the ability to turn this around. We have started to create the hype for healthy eating. However, the food industries have countered the positive direction we were going in by engaging the advertising industry to undermine the effort. They have also gone on the offensive with subliminal advertising that encourage us to feel good eating junk food.
There was a recent article in the New York Times magazine section “You Are What You Eat: 2006 and the Politics of Food”. It is important that we spend some time on this article. It is up the nation to say enough is enough.
“The headlines about food this year read like a remarkable replay of Woody Allen’s “Sleeper,” in which the things Americans think they should eat more of — lettuce and spinach — were suddenly the ones that could make them sick, or even kill them.”
I do not think anyone has gotten killed by a potato chip or soda pop in the short term. I know there is excellent evidence that it will kill you slowly.
Marion Nestle a professor in the department of nutrition at NYU said. “This is the year everyone discovered that food is about politics and people can do something about it,” she said. “In a world in which people feel more and more distant from global forces that control their lives, they can do something by, as the British put it, ‘voting with your trolley,’ their word for shopping cart.”
We can certainly avoid unhealthy food if we were educated to recognize unhealthy food. We would then be able to mount a national protest, but only with the governments help. Eric Schlosser, author of “Fast Food Nation,” is equally upbeat about the spinach disaster. “Those negative events brought attention to the problems,” he said of the past year. “Even the growers think the system is broken and has to be fixed.”
I have observed some positive movement. There is a growing bipartisan consensus that obesity is bad. Soft drinks and junk food vending machines are being removed from schools by individual school districts as the expense of losing an income producing profit center for the school district. Governors nation wide are making nutrition a priority in schools. Some states have even reinstituted physical education.
Whole Foods has become a major food marketer in the United States. They have forced main stream food marketers to advertise “healthy food”. The organic food movement even becomes main stream with Wal-Mart and Target food markets. However, as more and more “organic food” has been demanded the food has become less “organic”.
“As Mr. Pollan wrote in The New York Times in 2001, about the dairy farms operated by the organic milk producer Horizon, “thousands of cows that never encounter a blade of grass spend their days confined to a fenced dry lot, eating (certified organic) grain and tethered to milking machines three times a day.”
The Department of Agriculture is now considering allowing salmon farmers to call their fish organic even if the fish are fed nonorganic fishmeal. The increasingly loose meaning of the word has led some consumers, who once bought anything labeled organic, to rely on new signifiers, like grass-fed, sustainable or local.”
“It is not only individual shoppers who are choosing to vote with their food dollars. Tired of waiting for the federal government to act, local governments have stepped in. New York City banned trans fats in restaurants and told restaurants with standardized recipes that they must provide easy access to calorie information. Other municipal and state governments are requiring public institutions to buy more nutritious, locally produced food.”
My question is “where is the evidence that “organic” is better for your health than non organic food?” The key questions in my view are food quality and food safety. As food has become a huge business whose profits making potential can be leveraged, we need to worry about the safety of growing the foodstuff, its processing and delivery. Organic assumes that chemical fertilizers are bad and pesticides are toxic to humans in the doses used. Therefore organic fertilizers are imperative and pesticides should be forbidden. I do not think there is any evidence for this assertion. I can visual abuse of pesticides but have not seen evidence. It could be that organic fertilizer could threaten food safety more than chemical fertilizers. The organic food movement is making us aware that something is wrong with the food industry.
I think the real issues are the safety, quality and quantity of the food we eat. The quality and quantity of the food we eat has a direct impact on the obesity epidemic.
I will discuss the quality and quantity of food we are exposed to next time.