Almost one third of Americans are obese. Everyone thinks these people simply lack willpower and are just lazy. The easy solution is eating healthier and exercising more, that’s what most specialists would say. But is it really that simple? The answer is no. The big problem here is the food industry and the government. Why does the food industry have so much power and why isn’t the government doing enough to fight obesity?
In the beginning of the 20th century, the concern was that people didn’t eat enough. Obesity was no issue at that time. The most serious diet-related diseases were diseases due to under- nutrition, not getting enough calories, not having enough variety of foods or not having enough of the right foods. That didn’t really change until after the Second World War. Food distribution improved, the economy improved and people started eating more. Heart disease rates started increasing and the American Heart Association began talking about what kinds of dietary changes people needed to make in order to lower heart disease risks. Two major reports came out in the late
1980’s, identifying dietary fat as the most important change that needed to be made to improve diet and health. The idea was to reduce saturated fat out of the diet, but people were eliminating all fat content of their diet. They weren’t realizing that the food industry put substitute sugars for fats in the food and the calorie content of the products kept exactly the same. Fat was removed from foods and calories came in from the sugars. People were interpreting the ‘low-fat’ message as a way to cut all fat out of their diet, without thinking of calories. Just because products were ‘low-fat’ doesn’t mean they were healthy. Unfortunately, not many realized this.1
The food industry became competitive to sell more and more. Added sugar was put into everything and fat was eliminated. You might not know it, but sugar actually has 61 different names. You’ll find various names on ingredient lists of products. This is the main reason why people don’t even know they consume so much sugar. Sugar is also proven to be addictive. Your brain actually sees sugar as a reward. This makes you keep wanting more. Which is exactly what the food industry wants you to do: buying more food.2
The daily recommendation for added sugar is no more than 6 tablespoons for females and 9 for males. The food industry seems to be aware of this and you can tell. On every product there’s an ingredient list and it shows the percentage of how much it contains. Unfortunately around 74 percent of packaged foods are hiding this information for added sugar.3 This makes it impossible for people to maintain a healthy diet. The packages shouldn’t hide secrets from us.
First Lady Michelle Obama has made an effort to stop children from becoming obese. She launched the ‘Let’s move!’ campaign. The campaign focuses on providing healthy food in schools, improving access to healthy and affordable foods and increasing physical activity.4
The food industry obviously was not happy about this and argues as a defense that it’s ridiculous that the government wants to play the ‘food police’.
This discussion is often raised when the government tries to do something about this big problem. There are a lot of critics stating that the program enforces a ‘nanny state’ mentality that reaches families at a deeply personal level. People are afraid that the government would become a ‘nanny’ and infringe on individual rights to make their own dietary choices.5 This is why fighting the problem is difficult. But isn’t it more important to be healthy together and protect your citizens from the evil food industry?
Over $1.6 billion dollars is spent to market foods to young people. It’s a major concern, as the majority of the products are high in calories, sugar, fat and sodium. Unhealthy diets and obesity has been connected to the food marketing. This is especially a concern for children. They are important to marketers because they are the adult consumers of the future. Children from the age of 2 to 17 see – on average – 12 to 21 TV commercials for food products every day.
If you do the math; that’s 4400 to 7600 commercials a year. A lot of commercials use popular cartoon characters or celebrities to market the unhealthy, sugary food as ‘a great source of vitamins’ and ‘a great source of whole grains.’ According to research low-income and ethnic minority youth – who are at higher risk for obesity – are exposed to food advertisements even more.6
“Elementary school menus usually include cheeseburgers, chicken tenders and ‘Pizza Fridays.’”
Children who regularly eat school lunches are 29 percent more likely to be obese than their peers who bring their own lunch from home, according to a recent study. School lunches are in need of a big health makeover. Elementary school menus usually include cheeseburgers, chicken tenders and ‘Pizza Fridays’. It’s difficult to get a healthy meal in a public school cafeteria and it’s especially challenging to provide for school systems. The problem is that most school lunches are not prepared from scratch and don’t use fresh ingredients. Food is prepared with a ‘heat and serve’ mentality.7 That’s because a lot of schools have contracts with fast food companies. It’s very important to make school lunches more healthy so that the children’s diets will improve. About half of their daily calories are consumed at school. For low-income children, school lunch may be the only meal of the day. It’s also very important to understand that the foods children eat at school influence their lifelong eating habits.8 Change is crucial at this point.
“Pizza is a vegetable”
Yes, you read that right. Congress decided in 2011 that pizza and tomato sauce are vegetables so that it can stay in school cafeterias. Food companies that make frozen pizzas for schools, potato growers and the salt industry requested this. Some conservatives in Congress even say that the government shouldn’t be telling the kids what to eat.9 The United States Department of Agriculture suggested cutting back on salt. This would reduce starchy vegetables like corn, potatoes and peas. Also more fresh fruits and vegetables would be added. The proposals also asked for a maximum calorie allowance for meals – right now there only is a minimum – and getting more specific targets for whole grain and dairy in school lunches. Unfortunately, Congress didn’t listen. Schools even complained that the changes would be too expensive.10 You can call this a huge political failure in my opinion.
So you now understand that obesity in the United States is not just a problem for the obese themselves, it’s also a huge political issue. Sugar is added in almost anything, without actually showing how much percent on the ingredient list. Michelle Obama has tried to fight against the problem, but it’s unclear how much this actually succeeded. Food marketing to children needs to be regulated or even banned. Food at schools should be prepared fresh, but that’s easier said than done. It’s a shame the government can’t or will not do more to help. One thing is for sure: this issue is not over and all help is welcome.
1. ‘’Interview Marion Nestle’’, www.pbs.org, geschreven op 8 april 2004, laatst geraadpleegd op 21 september 2017.
2. ‘’The truth about sugar addiction’’, www.webmd.com, geschreven op 23 februari 2016, laatst geraadpleegd op 21 september 2017.
3. ‘’Hidden in plain sight’’, www.sugarscience.ucsf.edu, laatst geraadpleegd op 21 september 2017.
4. ‘’America’s move to raise a healthier generation of kids’’, www.letsmove.obamawhitehouse.archives.gov, laatst geraadpleegd op 21 september 2017.
5. ‘’Gauging the public health value of Michelle Obama’s ‘Let’s Move’ campaign’’, www.modernhealthcare.com, laatst geraadpleegd op 20 september 2017.
6. ‘’Marketing food to children’’, www.theweightofthenation.hbo.com, laatst geraadpleegd op 20 september 2017.
7. ‘’Can school lunches cause obesity?’’, www.rd.com, laatst geraadpleegd op 21 september 2017.
8. ‘’Lessons from the lunchroom: childhood obesity, school lunch and the way to a healthier future’’, www.ucsusa.org, laatst geraadpleegd op 20 september 2017.
9. ‘’Tomato sauce on pizza is a vegetable, says Congress; GOP says healthier school lunches are too expensive’’, www.nydailynews.com, laatst geraadpleegd op 21 september.
10. ‘’Healthier school lunches? No thank you, says Congress’’, www.healthland.time.com, geschreven op 16 november 2011, laatst geraadpleegd op 19 september 2017.