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Monday, May 14, 2012

Dave Davies (NPR) Interviews Kelly Brownell About Obesity

The HBO documentary The Weight of the Nation is getting a lot of attention- just this week I read a Newsweek article about it (which I discussed here) and I heard an interview on NPR regarding the series and the obesity epidemic in general. I won't be watching the show (we don't have HBO. Drat.) but I have been getting a lot of insight just reading about it. 

Fresh Air's Dave Davies interviewed Kelly Brownell, a psychologist featured in the documentary who also directs the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale.The interview touched on various topics from the series,  but one really stuck with me. 

They discussed the notion that the government shouldn't intervene in our lives and personal habits. 

"As a country, we sometimes believe that certain health-related issues sometimes reach a certain point of importance where we believe government has a role. For example, we could teach people to drive at the speed limit and be safe and not fall asleep at the wheel — or we can put airbags in cars. We could hope people brush and floss, or we can put fluoride in the water. We could hope that parents get their children immunized before they go to school, or we can just require it. So the question is whether obesity has reached a certain level of crisis, like we felt we reached with tobacco. ... I obviously believe we're there, and I believe, more and more, the country is believing that." (source

This is a point of contention in politics of late- if the Democrats claim we need more oversight, the Republicans cry that the oversight costs tax dollars and grows the government, which should be kept small. Nothing is done and no one wins, as a result of all the infighting. 

But my argument is not whether there should or shouldn't be more involvement from the government. My argument is that that involvement- that oversight- already exists within the food system. It just needs to be redirected.  The industries of sugar, meat, corn, and dairy (to name a few) are highly subsidized. If the government took even a small portion of the monies directed to those foodstuffs and redirected it to the fruit and vegetable markets, it would create a domino effect. With more funding, produce agriculture would be better able to create ad campaigns to increase demand. (Think: the "Got Milk?" campaign championed by the dairy industry. Through efforts of the dairy industry and the government combined, parents everywhere were and still are CONVINCED that cow's milk is the only source of calcium and vitamin D for their children. This is a misinformed belief, but that's another post for another time...)

So, all it would take is a redistribution of sorts. But what about those that argue that NO industry should get subsidies, that the government should stay out of it altogether? It is my opinion that we are past that point. It may have worked before we became so addicted to sugar, salt, and fat- when families cooked and ate at home, primarily. We are now up to our necks in an epidemic, and the American people don't know what to believe when it comes to fixing the problem. We don't know what is good to eat and what isn't. We have been told different stories time after time, and we have gotten to the point where we tune it out and give up. 

It must be said that it is high time the government were involved. In the past when something was severely affecting a large group of Americans negatively (the Great Depression, the auto company bailout, the bank bailout, anti-smoking) the government stepped in. It would be in the government's best interest to do the same here. For one, medical and insurance costs would be drastically reduced. 

To imagine the effects of an "Eat More Vegetables" government campaign (I am sure they would come up with a better title than I have...) let us look at the effects of the anti-smoking campaign for comparison. KE Warner of the Department of Public Health Policy and Administration writes, "In the absence of the antismoking campaign, adult per capita cigarette consumption in 1987 would have been an estimated 79-89 per cent higher than the level actually experienced." (source)

An "Eat More Vegetables" campaign could involve commercials showing the effects of a diet void of vegetation, and a diet full of whole natural foods, including raw fruits and vegetables. There could be "Got Spinach?" posters in elementary schools. The possibilities are endless, and it doesn't even take much creativity to begin with. Using the same tactics we have used before would make a world of difference. (In fact, some small scale campaigns have already popped up. Bo Muller-Moore, known as the "eat more kale guy," started a business making t-shirts that read "Eat More Kale." He was sued by Chick-fil-A for copyright infringement. Rather than putting him out of business, all the attention sent his t-shirt orders through the roof.) (source)

How do you feel about government intervention when it comes to the obesity epidemic? How should the government promote diet changes for the better?

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