Posts tagged with: obesity

It’s that time of year: we’re making resolutions to get on the treadmill, join the gym, eat an apple every day. And yet, Americans are getting fatter and fatter. Is it the government’s fault? Dr. Jenna Robinson, at The Freeman, believes so. The food pyramid, farm subsidies: it’s all failing us.

In the 1990s, American women blindly gobbled up low-fat Snackwells desserts masquerading as sensible treats. After all, Snackwells cookies met government standards: they were low in fat and contained “safe” sugar. Parents send their kids to school assuming school lunch contains healthy fruits and vegetables—never stopping to ask what their kids are actually eating each day.

Government recommendations also dissuade private nutrition groups from attempting to compete with “official” advice. Consider Dr. Atkins’ critical reception when he wrote Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution; although a best-seller, it was panned by the nutrition establishment. The USDA’s Agricultural Resource Service still warns that the diet started out as a “gimmick” and hedges on whether it’s ultimately “worthwhile or worthless.”

Over the years, government recommendations have contributed to the replacement of lard with trans-fats (the latter of which are now considered deadly), the substitution of butter for margarine and back to butter again, and conflicting recommendations about eggs, orange juice, vitamins, certain types of fish, and the temperature at which it’s safe to eat meat. Is it any wonder that Americans are no closer to their health goals?

Well, that wasn’t a serious title: After an hour of reflection, I am forced to admit that pizza qua pizza is a morally neutral proposition. We might have thought it was politically neutral too, until Congress decided this week that pizza sauce still counts as a serving of vegetables in public school lunch lines.

The brouhaha over pizza’s nutritional status reminds one of the Reagan-era attempt to classify ketchup as a vegetable. The department of agriculture was tasked with cutting the federal school lunch budget but maintaining nutritional standards, which it proposed to do by reclassifying ketchup — acondiment up to that point — as a vegetable. The move would have saved schools the cost of an extra serving of vegies, but Democrats cried foul (hard to blame them), and ketchup was left alone.

At Acton we go in for the natural law, and tend to shun legal positivism, so Congress’s declaration on pizza doesn’t really change the way we look at it (which is, after an informal poll, as a mixture of a number of food groups, vegetables not among them since the tomato is a fruit).

Talking Points Memo takes a less metaphysical tack, and discovers to its outrage that (1) lobbyists for Big Pizza spent more than $5 million lobbying Congress to maintain the status quo, and (2) the reclassification of pizza as a non-vegetable might have helped lower the child obesity rate, which is alarmingly high.

When a democratic government begins making laws that harm particular business sectors, they hire lobbyists. If TPM thinks it has solved the problem of faction, it should reveal the solution before skipping right to complaining about its redundancy and assuming we’ve all made the same brilliant political discovery they have.

Otherwise, if they’re upset that the problems of faction have infected school lunch lines, they should remember that the only way to get the K Street money out would be to relinquish Congress’s micromanagement of what children eat for lunch.

And that brings us to the second point. TPM can’t believe that even though “the CDC estimates about 17 percent — or 12.5 million — of children between the ages of 2 and 19 are obese,” Congress is allowing public schools to continue passing off two tablespoons of salty pizza sauce as a vegetable.

But the 17 percent childhood obesity rate is not actually a result of Congressional action. Michelle Obama’s recent healthy eating campaigns admit as much — they’re aimed at parents.

Laws always have an effect on the character of citizenry — a fact which the left usually chooses to ignore — and much less frequently on its health. In the case of school lunches, it’s easy to trace the government take-over of lunchtime through parental disregard of nutrition to 17 percent childhood obesity.

If you teach parents that their children’s health is not their responsibility, they’ll stop worrying about it, but when your federal bureaucracy can’t keep their 74 million children healthy, you shouldn’t blame Domino’s and Papa John’s.

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Monday, December 13, 2010

Jordan’s post on hunger raises a timely question, on a day when First Lady Michelle Obama was on hand to watch the president sign the $4.5 billion “Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act” at a Washington elementary school. Despite the media coverage and White House spin that points to this in part as a hunger fighting piece of legislation, the measure is really about obesity. Because in America, the real problem with food is superabundance and waste, not scarcity and hunger.

As Bloomberg noted today:

Almost 20 percent of 6- to 11-year-olds were considered obese in 2007-2008, according to a study by the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Obese children are more likely to have health issues like Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure according to the CDC.

A study published last year estimated the cost of treating obesity-related ailments in 2008 at $147 billion. The study, noted the Washington Post, “compared medical costs for normal-weight people to those for obese people, suggests that curbing the obesity epidemic is key not only to ensuring a healthier future for Americans, but also to reining in health costs.”

The Centers for Disease Control helpfully suggests that schools should be located “within walking distance of students’ homes and making it easier for people to get access to healthful foods.” Of course, these tips largely will be ignored, as will most other nanny state directives on eating healthy diets and exercising that have been around for decades. Walking to school? That’s what minivans are for.

Now, you can argue that poor people are consuming too much bad food. You can argue that government farm subsidies foster production of the wrong kinds of food. All that is debatable and subject to honest differences of opinions as to causes and solutions. What doesn’t seem obvious is that millions of Americans are going hungry. This is what we get constantly from the religious left and the U.S. hunger lobby, which sees expansive government welfare programs as the inevitable answer. (more…)

I take a look at the way corn subsidies skew our eating habits — and not always for the good of our health — in this week’s Acton Commentary. Excerpt:

Government policy-makers regularly prove themselves to be unwise decision-makers by continuing to introduce arbitrary agricultural price distortions that create incentives for producing unhealthy food through farm subsidies. Perhaps the most effective national health care initiative moving forward would be allowing markets to function so that people can make better food choices.

We cannot be good stewards of our bodies or nature if we do not have accurate information. Prices help to convey that information. For example, what would happen if the market determined actual corn prices? Not subsidizing corn would cause a needed price correction. Perhaps our hamburger value-meals would adjust in price creating disincentives to eat fast-food. Without corn and other agricultural subsidies, maybe the price of meat would adjust to a point encouraging different choices benefiting us all in the long-run. Maybe, for example, eating a 72-once steak at the Big Texan restaurant in Amarillo, Texas would be too expensive to consider.

While individuals are ultimately responsible to exercise good stewardship in choosing what and how much to eat, incentives can be distorted by government meddling in the market. Dr. Barry Sears, author of Toxic Fat: When Good Fat Turns Bad, argues, “The problem lies with America’s continually subsidizing of corn and soybean production.” Government subsidies generate “an oversupply of cheap refined carbohydrates and cheap vegetable oils that when combined give rise to increased diet-induced inflammation.” This inflammation in turn “activates the genes in people who are genetically predisposed to gain weight with relative ease,” giving rise to all the health problems connected to excessive weight. Medical spending for obesity is estimated to have reached $147 billion in 2008, an 87 percent increase in the past decade.

Read “Too Much Government Makes Us Sick” on the Acton Web site and come back here for comments.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, January 2, 2007

The conflicting images I spoke about last week, the obesity of poor children in America, are the subject of a weekend piece in the NYT, “India Prosperity Creates Paradox; Many Children Are Fat, Even More Are Famished.”

Of course, in India these aren’t the same kids: by and large the poor ones aren’t the fat ones. Someni Sengupta writes, “In short, while new money and new foods transform the eating habits of some of India’s youngest citizens, gnawing destitution continues to plague millions of others. Taken together, it is a picture of plenty and want, each producing its own set of afflictions.”

The social problems are accompanied by the requisite calls to expand inadequate government programs. “In a rare rebuke, the Supreme Court of India this month ordered the government to expand swiftly the number of nutrition programs in the country. The programs now serve around 46 million children, at least on paper.”

Here’s a sample of what one of these programs looks like in practice.

One morning in a destitute rural district called Barabanki about 300 miles northwest of here, a dozen small children, most of them barefoot, some of them barely clothed, lined up for help at a program known as Integrated Child Development Services.

On this morning, every child received a scoop of dry cereal, a bland mixture of wheat, sugar and soy that is called panjiri in Hindi.

Some brought a plastic bag to hold their gift. Others made a bowl with the dirty end of whatever they wore. They sat on the ground and shoveled the food into their mouths.

Mothers in this village said the dry ration cereal sometimes made their children sick. No cooked food was available at this center. The center was also supposed to dispense vitamin-fortified oil to the villagers, but they said it rarely came.

These don’t seem to be practices that place a premium on human dignity or instilling self-sufficiency, but are rather based on perpetuating dependency on government.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, December 29, 2006

A new study finds that children growing up in poverty in America are disproportionately more likely to be obese, compared to other income groups (HT: God’s Politics).

So, poor kids in the US are fat…and in this they are just like the rest of America: “The whole country is struggling with this,” said Virginia Chomitz , senior scientist at the Institute for Community Health at the Cambridge Health Alliance . “There’s a lot of factors in our environment and our lifestyle that are pushing us toward being fatter. It’s an uphill battle to push against that tide.”

The obesity of poor Americans is in marked contrast to poor children in less wealthy countries, where the biggest problem is the lack of access to calories: “820 million people in the developing world are undernourished.”

Obesity among the poor in America and starvation among the poor in the developing world; Is there a thread that connects these two phenomena?

Some blame the former problem on the lack of access to affordable fresh food (while the latter don’t have access to much food of any kind). Speaking of the urban poor, Rachel Kimbro, a medical sociologist at the University of Wisconsin who led the study, said, “Good quality, fresh food is not available in a lot of these neighborhoods.”

Which makes bias against the entrance of chain stores that carry fresh produce, like Wal-Mart, Meijer, and so on, into urban neighborhoods all the more inexplicable.