Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Proposal Hell

Sorry for the light posting, but people in my line of work spend much of their professional lives in this horrible purgatory. No research proposal has ever been completed more than 17.5 seconds before the deadline. Why that is, I cannot tell you for sure, but it's as inevitable as tasteless beer commercials.

Anyhow, what I'm working on now is something we don't think about a whole lot, and that's the neighborhood food environment for kids. If you go into a small grocery or convenience store, you will see advertisements for soda, massive displays of candy at the checkout counter, coolers promoting so-called "energy drinks" (which are just a way of marketing sugar water), and of course a whole lot of twinkies and hohos prominently displayed. On their way to school, the kids in my neighborhood stop in and buy breakfast, consisting of soda, candy bars, and those nasty little shrink-wrapped pastries. It would be great to convince the merchants to tone some of this down, or even try to push healthier food choices (not that the kids would buy an orange and a low-fat milk instead of a Snickers and a coke, but hey, you could try.) But, that's how they make their money. The margin on those items is good, the distributors give them incentives to advertise them and place them prominently, and they're giving the people what they want.

There have been substantial efforts to fix the food environment inside the schools, where the authorities have control. They can get the soda and junk food out of there, and they are starting to do it. But it's a free country. We can't control what goes on inside the bodega or the 7/11, but maybe we can find incentives to influence it. So, that's what I'm working on. Is it radical? Is it even political? Is it hopeless? We've got to do something because we have 12-year-old kids developing type 2 diabetes. There is a public health disaster in the making.

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