Posted: October 22, 2014, 4:07 p.m.
by Jean Faircloth.
As obesity has become a national epidemic, the United States’ crisis has been boldly defined through various initiatives to address the problem.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states, “More than one third of Americans are battling obesity, and more than one third of children and adolescents are overweight as well.”
While nutritionists, doctors, lawmakers and food companies strategize solutions to the problem and make changes, the rate of obese Americans increases. If we as a country continue eating at this rate, 95 percent of Americans will be obese in 20 years.
There appears to be a breach in solution-oriented communication strategies that current initiatives cannot fix. We are therefore unable to complete the communication cycle through awareness, attitude change and action.
Americans can no longer claim the excuse of ignorance about the obesity problem.
We are constantly bombarded with obesity facts, figures and statistics. We cannot go to the grocery store, turn on the television, or read a magazine without seeing some type of informative segment on nutrition. Every food container not only has the nutritional facts on the side label, but it is also plastered on the front of many of the packages.
In response to Americans’ demand for more information about the food they consume, the government enforced an Obama Health Care Act mandate that required chain restaurants of 15 or more store locations to print the calorie count of items on their menus. Many food companies feared the outcome of providing this information to their consumers, but the government recognized that it is the citizens’ right to know what their purchased products contain.
Sara Bleich, a health policy researcher at Johns Hopkins, said, “In the case of local menu labeling in places like NYC, we saw lots of consumer shock at the high number of calories in items and some menu reformulation as a result.”
Many consumers had no idea that the food they were eating contained such a vast amount of calories. For example, they thought that they were shaving calories by eating a bagel with cream cheese, rather than a doughnut. In reality, that doughnut has less calories.
In addition to government mandates to address obesity, the “Fed Up” documentary depicts the American obesity crisis, unveils hidden facts and blames big business for the epidemic.
It highlights the immense amount of additive sugar and substitution of sodium in many food products, and it portrays the idea that the obesity rates are the result of the country’s efforts to be “healthy.”
“Fed Up” states that “80 percent of the 600,000 food products sold in this country have added sugar,” and it poses the argument that sugar may be the new cigarette.
In addressing the question of sugar being addictive, a professor at The University of Alabama with her Ph.D. and M.S. in Food and Nutrition Sciences and a RD as a dietician, Dr. Kristi Crowe-White stated, “Individuals can be addicted to anything. Food is a common addiction. Regarding sugar, there is a spike in blood glucose and subsequent insulin response associated with carbohydrates, in general. The initial sensory experience coupled withthe short boost of energy received from sugar can be an experience toward which one is inclined to desire to experience again and again.”
Some Americans seem to be embracing healthy eating. For example, more establishments that sell organically grown products — stores such as Whole Foods and restaurants such as Lyfe Kitchen — offer organic produce and meat, as well as refuse to serve soda, in response to the high demand for healthy food.
Many see the healthy eating trends and want to take part. However, their perspective is commonly reversed when they realize the expense of living a healthy lifestyle. “The healthiest diets cost about $1.50 more per day than the least healthy diets,” according to new research from Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH).
Bleich said, “Generally, health is a secondary concern to Americans. The economy is first. So, while Americans may want to make healthier choices, it is often the case that a preference for quantity/low cost outweighs a preference for healthy.”
Researchers from Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) also suggested “that unhealthy diets may cost less because food policies have focused on the production of ‘inexpensive, high volume’” foods. They noted this type of production led to the use of “a complex network of farming, storage, transportation, processing, manufacturing, and marketing capabilities that favor sales of highly processed food products for maximal industry profit.”
Yes, Americans are informed, and their attitudes are changing. They want to be healthy. They do not want to battle the many side effects of unhealthy eating, such as diabetes and heart attacks.
But in spite of this desire to change, can consumers afford to actually act on it?
The inexpensive temptation of unhealthy foods continues to lead to one third of Americans eating fast food each day, the domination and power of the processed food industry, and more individuals becoming obese.
FDA regulations would seem to be obstacles for the food companies. Yet, the processed food companies continue to successfully adapt to such regulations. Their profit success has been immense, yet society has been negatively impacted through obesity.
Businesses have two main relationships that they focus on — consumer relations and financial relations. The consumer obviously likes this high sugar, fattening food or they would not eat it. In the business sense, if the fattening products are selling, which produces revenue, and a company is complying with regulations, why take its products off the shelves?
The big food companies see healthy food options as a waste of money if consumers are not buying them.
Bleich has found in her research that “chain restaurants are very agile and responsive to consumer demand. If consumers want lower-calorie items, then restaurants will provide them.” The food companies must be shown statistical evidence that there is an increase in the consumers’ choice to eat the healthy options, or the companies must be forced to do so by more government policies.
With the continuous failure in efforts to fix this problem, the question is posed: How soon before the government puts a lock on our refrigerators and regulates the waist size of our pants?