Never in the history of human existence has the rate of obesity increased more than it has over just the past two decades. Of course, the obvious question is – Why? Well, the correct answer is that there is no single reason. I’d like to point out some of the major causes. And I’d like to start with the Government and our schools.
In the September 2007 edition of Scientific American, NYU professor Marion Nestle pointed to a political cause of obesity. She noted that in 1980 the Reagan administration’s deregulation of industry freed up agricultural production. This encouraged farmers to grow more food. The calories available per capita in the U.S. increased from 3,200 a day in 1980 to 3,900 a day two decades later. That is a difference of 700 calories available in the U.S. food supply per person per day.
Let’s put this in perspective. With everything else staying constant, if you eat 500 less calories per day, you will lose one pound of fat every week. Based on this, if you consumed 700 extra calories per day for a year you would gain 73 pounds. Now most people don’t gain this much weight in a year because there are a lot of other variables that must be included, but you get the idea of the significance this political move had on the obesity epidemic.
Nestle further exposed that the early 1980s also marked the advent of the ‘shareholder value movement’ on Wall Street. Stockholder demands for higher short-term returns on investments forced food companies to expand sales in a marketplace that already contained excessive calories. Food companies responded by seeking new sales and marketing opportunities. They encouraged formerly shunned practices that eventually changed social norms, such as frequent between-meal snacking, eating in book and clothing stores, and serving larger portions.
This led to one of the most significant causes of obesity – increased portion size!
There is so much food available that food establishments, such as restaurants, use huge portion sizes as a marketing tool. We have grown conditioned and accustomed to these enormous portions of food. The bottom line is that these portions are simply too much. It’s sadly ironic that there are people literally starving around the world and yet truth be told there is a surplus of food. The problem of starvation around the world is not sufficient food production. The problem is food distribution. It’s an economic and logistics problem.
Since we’re on the government, let’s talk about the Food Guide Pyramid. The Food Guide Pyramid, developed in 1991, was the government’s underhanded attempt to educate people on how to eat a balanced and healthy diet. The branch of government responsible for producing the Food Guide Pyramid is the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). First of all, don’t you think that there is a more qualified branch of the government to determine what a healthy diet constitutes – like a medical or health branch? You know, a branch that actually has individuals highly qualified to talk about medical and health issues. When I want to know how to plant corn I’ll call the Department of Agriculture, not when I want to know what diet will keep me healthy.
Walter Willett, chairperson of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, states that the government’s pyramid is built on “shaky scientific ground and that it is tremendously flawed”. Dr. Willett is basing his response on the very best science and controlled studies we have available today. And when he was asked about the government’s food pyramid stance on fats, protein, dairy, and carbohydrates, Willett said none of this is accurate, and the pyramid is so out of sync with scientific evidence that it almost has to be totally dismantled and rebuilt from the ground up.
Why would the Department of Agriculture do this? If you study the Food Guide Pyramid, you would see that it recommends that individuals, by far, get the majority of their daily calories from agricultural products such as rice, pasta, bread, and potatoes. Yes, it is a self serving guide that benefits lobbying groups such as the U.S. Potato Board and other farming interest groups. This has nothing to do with a conspiracy theory, but everything to do with simply lining pockets and serving political agendas. Sad, but true.
In 2005, the government released a new version of the pyramid called My Pyramid. It’s just more ambiguous, and therefore is less able to be directly attacked. All you have to know about the new pyramid is that it is still put out by the Department of Agriculture.
Let start with the basics – school lunches. Read the following guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture regarding school lunches. Then you can be the judge of whose best interests are in mind. I don’t think you will conclude that it is our children’s best interest.
This is direct from the Department of Agriculture. Generally, public or nonprofit private schools of high school grade or under and public or nonprofit private residential child care institutions may participate in the school lunch program. School districts and independent schools that choose to take part in the lunch program get cash subsidies and donated commodities from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for each meal they serve. In return, they must serve lunches that meet Federal requirements. In addition to cash reimbursements, schools are entitled by law to receive commodity foods, called entitlement” foods. Schools can also get bonus commodities as they are available from surplus agricultural stocks. School food authorities can also be reimbursed for snacks served to children through age 18 in after school educational or enrichment programs.
Another inexcusable act being committed by schools is the strategic placement and availability of vending machines. These vending machines are filled with soda, candy, caffeine and sugar laden energy drinks, chips, and cupcakes. Food and vending companies bid to have their machines placed in the cafeteria, halls, and even the gym. The companies get money, the school gets money, and the kids get overweight and unhealthy.
Perhaps the most sinful act of all, however, is the reduction / elimination of physical activity in the curriculum. Gym class and recess are disappearing. Child obesity, diabetes in children, hypertension in children, and restlessness in children are all increasing. You don’t have to have a medical background to see the connection here. It’s more of just observing and having common sense.
As a college professor who teaches freshman and sophomores, I see first hand the level at which our students are prepared after they leave high school. I’m not going to discuss math and writing skills, but I am going to point out the lack of real world preparation that these students have. Bottom line is that our secondary education system is dropping the ball when is comes to real world preparation. This includes things like: writing a resume and interviewing for a job, understanding different types of mortgages and other basic information when buying a home, understanding contracts such as lease agreements, understanding credit cards, bank loans, car loans, and credit scores, understanding how to leverage and invest money, stocks and real estate, understanding the importance of basic health maintenance such as regular dental and doctor visits, regular self breast and testicular exams, understanding the basics of carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, and minerals, understanding the real health issues associated with obesity, and understanding how to read food labels and serving size.
This list could go on and on. From the above list I can guarantee you that if properly educated the following tragedies would have been limited: U.S. Foreclosure Explosion of 2008, massive credit card debt, and of course the Obesity Epidemic of the 21 century.
H. G. Wells said, human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe. I think education is losing the race. We need change! If we are going to conquer this epidemic, we need to start doing things differently. We cannot attack this problem as we have been, because it obviously is just not working.