Posted by: kellydh | July 18, 2007

Food Fight!!

This book was recommended to me a few years ago by a friend, and I have finally now gotten around to really reading it. Food Fight, by Kelly D. Brownell Ph.D. and Katherine Battle Horgen Ph.D., is a great sojourn into the world public health, American culture, and the massive power of the countries’ largest food producers. It is laid out in a simple fashion, and provides readers with a detailed overview of the problem, and the authors’ suggestions for possible wide-spread policy remedies.

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One thing I really like about the structure of the book, is the way that Brownell and Horgen point out the severity of the nutrition and diet issue in America with simple, yet startling and well-substantiated facts set apart from the text. Sprinkled throughout the book, these facts serve as anecdotal evidence to support both their thesis that the obesity crisis in America is largely due to changing lifestyles that are taken advantage of by big business marketing, and their suggestions that the trend may be reversed through some drastic policy changes. I really find many of their suggestions appealing yet difficult to enact. Unfortunately, before we can start distinguishing between “healthy” and “unhealthy” food in legislation, there needs to be a substantial shift in American culture to support the idea that big food is something to limit not encourage.

The ideal of “American dream” has always showed a family that does not have to worry about food or disease. In the world of the American dream, everything is as big as you want it, without consequence, and hearty foods are in plentiful supply. As big business as sought to bring that dream to our doors and our dinner plates, food is cheaper (in price and quality) than ever before. For the first time in human history, malnutrition is a serious issue juxtaposed over the issue of obesity that is running rampant among the less privileged. In today’s world it costs money to be healthy; it costs money to buy the nutritious and organic food, it costs money to live in a less polluted environment, it costs money to have a good education, it even costs money to exercise! And those who cannot afford the luxuries of a healthy lifestyle are left in the dust, surrounded by the lure of cheap burgers and 1000 calorie sodas.

Some of the most disquieting facts I have encountered so far in my reading are:

  • One-fourth of all vegetables eaten in the United States are French fries.
  • In an average gym class, a child is aerobically active for only 3.5 minutes.
  • In 1998, 89 percent of children under age eight visited McDonald’s at least once a month. Their vice president of marketing said that the McDonald’s goal for the following year was 100 percent. A study of nearly 10,000 children showed that 100 percent of those in the United States recognized Ronald McDonald; the figures were 98 percent in Japan and 93 percent in the United Kingdom.
  • The risk of obesity in a preschool child increases by 6 percent for every hour of television he or she watches per day. If there is a TV in the child’s bedroom, the risk of being obese is increased by 31 percent.
  • A large percentage of young adults ages seventeen through twenty, from whom military recruits are drawn, do not meet U.S. military weight standards. Weights are particularly high among minority youth, who form a disproportionate percentage of those in military service.

One thing that my mother has always told me (and I hear that a mother’s wisdom is always profound) is that “we eat to live, we don’t live to eat.” As I strive to live and thrive as a person with diabetes, I keep that mantra in mind every time I am tempted by the bag of chips lying on the kitchen counter or the flashy Burger King sign on the side of the road. Maybe if we all took that idea to heart, we could begin to manage the world of food so that we are no longer controlled by the food we eat and the businesses that produce said food, but instead ensure that the food that comes into our homes is just the right balance of nutrients and taste that our bodies need to survive and thrive.

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