Obesity: America's Epidemic
“For the first time in human history, there are more overweight than underweight individuals in the world,” said Michael Roberts, director of The Center for Food Law and Policy.
Roberts and Dr. David Heber, professor of medicine and public health and director of the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition, spoke Thursday night at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles about the obesity epidemic that is occurring in America.
Individuals, both young and old, from all sorts of backgrounds and professions—nutritionists, teachers, students and mothers—attended the discussion to hear what Roberts and Heber had to say about the increasing presence of obesity and why government food policies are so slow to change in the face of the obesity crisis in America.
Roberts attributed the slow change to a few reasons: the lack of a coherent national food policy, a fragmented government approach and a strong global food industry resistance.
To fix such a broken system where there is little or no collaboration and national leadership toward addressing the complex issue of obesity, Roberts proposed that we adopt a food systems approach that links the activities of producing, processing, retailing, and consuming food to the outcomes of these activities.
Roberts acknowledged school gardens as a prime example of a food systems approach that has been very effective. In some schools, gardens are being integrated into the educational curriculum to educate children about where food comes from and how it grows.
A big problem currently is how uneducated individuals are about food and proper nutrition. Foods are labeled with nutritional criteria such as fat, sugar and calories but most people are not educated on how to read a nutrition label properly. By educating children through school gardens and nutrition lessons, educators hope to instill good eating habits in children at a young age that will help develop a healthy diet and strong sense of nutrition knowledge as an adult.
However, instilling healthy eating habits is not an easy task when you have corporations who pay little or no attention to health and are solely concerned with maximizing profit.
On television, Carl’s Jr. promotes its new, juicy Steakhouse Six Dollar Burger - a burger composed of 1,060 calories, which is more that half a day’s worth of calories. Driving along the 405 Freeway, there are McDonald’s billboards promoting its “double or nothing cheeseburger” because a single patty cheeseburger with 300 calories and 12 grams of fat is simply not enough. Advertisements make fatty foods look appetizing making them hard to pass up.
“Consumers are manipulated by advertisers day after day,” Heber said. “These advertisers spend hundreds of billions of dollars a year worldwide manipulating people into a consumer lifestyle that is very detrimental to their health.”
One policy that Roberts and Heber feel strongly about is the soda tax. It will build awareness and make the public aware of soda’s negative health effects and it could also lead to reduced soda consumption. Even if the consumption does not decrease significantly, the message of “soda is bad for you” will be sent out to the public.
During the past 20 years, there has been a great increase in obesity in the United States and rates remain high. With increased sedentary lifestyles and poor eating habits, the country will continue to move in the direction of an obese society where for the first time, today’s children may die before their parents as a consequence of childhood obesity.
Reach staff reporter Jacqueline Gantes here.
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