Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Recommended Reading

The new Health Affairs is a theme issue on childhood obesity. Unfortunately, if you don't subscribe you'll mostly just be able to read the abstracts but even that is worth it.

Editor in Chief Susan Dentzer indicts the United States for child abuse. With almost one third of our children now overweight, likely to suffer from diabetes, heart disease, colon cancer, arthritis, and many other ailments and ultimately to live shorter lives than their parents. Articles in the issue pile up the evidence: this is a political problem, a disaster caused by the food industry and food and agricultural policies that they control on behalf of greed.

Kelly Brownell and colleagues demolish the case that the food industry has spent from its billions to promote, that this devastating epidemic results from a failure of "personal responsibility." Apart from the absurdity of blaming four-year-olds for their dietary "choices," and even granting that letting them suffer for the sins of their parents would somehow constitute justice, nobody has proposed any reason why we should suddenly have an epidemic of "personal irresponsibility." And if there were such a reason, then a fortiori it would not be the fault of the people so afflicted after all.

In fact, the industry recently spent $24 million to defeat a tax on sugary beverages, which happen to be one of the most important reasons why children are fat. If you present mammals with unlimited amounts of high calorie density, nutrient poor food, they eat it, and they eat too much of it. That's because our appetite regulatory systems evolved under conditions of scarce calories and high levels of physical activity, and we needed what little sugar and fat we could get for fuel. Add to that intensive, psychologically sophisticated marketing of junk food to children, and they'll eat even more. When their parents go to the store, they'll find that the price of low quality foods has fallen over the years, while the price of fruit and vegetables has risen, and that's not a result of anybody's "personal responsibility" either. It's because of the way the agricultural and food industries are organized, and government policies that favor production of low quality foods. And of course the industry and government are locked in a close partnership to make sure the status quo continues.

Add to that all the time kids spend hypnotized by TV and computer games - time that I spent as a kid outdoors running around and playing physical games -- and what do you know, we've got a whole lot of fat kids. Well duhh.

This is a national emergency and there's plenty we can do about it. Instead of subsidizing sugar crops and animal feed, which in turn of course is used to make fatty beef and cheese, we can start supporting produce growers, including small scale growers who can deliver fresh produce to local markets. We can tax junk food, just as we do tobacco and alcohol, to discourage consumption, and apply the revenues to parks and playgrounds and physical activity programs for kids. We can get junk food out of schools and have healthy school meals for a change. We can make neighborhoods safe for children to play out of doors. We can bring grocery stores and farmers markets into poor neighborhoods. In spite of the evil bastards who control the Supreme Court, there are ways we can restrict marketing of poison to children. We can do this. We must.

Here's some good free content from HA. And here's some more.


Anonymous said...

This is begging to be a letter to the editor here in my hometown newsrag. In Delaware, food menu labeling and soda tax legislation is being fought tooth and nail by both the National Restaurant Association and the American Beverage Association. Same strawman about undue burden on small business and the "nanny state" interfering where "personal responsibility" should trump. Our local health promotion coalition and various partner groups are fighting back just as hard...but without the deep pockets.

Great post. This is dead-on.

Anonymous said...

pain pill pusher...STFU.

Cervantes said...

Thanks anon @ 9:44. This is becoming a problem here, suddenly I have to police the comments. Unfortunately Google doesn't make it easy to communicate about these problems, and I don't know that they're doing much of anything about it.