Weighing in on Obesity

May 25, 2012 in Food Economics, Foodland by Mary Ireland

I was struck by an article that a TV critic for the Los Angeles Times wrote about the HBO special, "The Weight of the Nation.” What made the article remarkable is that Mary McNamara, the author, is what she term's "a pioneer of childhood obesity." She states that by the time she was a junior in high school, she weighed more than 200 pounds.

The aspect of the article that I find most interest is her thoughts on the mental aspects of obesity. She acknowledges the common targets of those trying to correct the trend in childhood obesity: "a deluge of cheap junk food, the ubiquity of high fructose corn syrup and other sugars, the absence of physical education in schools, outrageous marketing aimed at children, cost-cutting in school cafeterias." Make no mistake, these things do contribute. However, McNamara makes the point that is not so well known in her statement "But here is what I know about being a fat kid: It is at least as much about your head as it is about what you put in your mouth."

The most poignant statement in the article is "I did not eat like a fat kid because the television told me to, or because the boxes were pretty, or because there were no apples in my house. I ate that way because I was afraid, because I was angry, because I often felt alone and hopeless. I ate because the taste and feel of the food in my mouth distracted me from the grim rattle of my own thoughts and the often out-of-control things that were happening around me, including my ballooning self."

When looking at obesity in these terms, there are a number of different angles to explore. One of the most prevalent is the poverty-obesity link. In his book All You Can Eat: How Hungry is America Joel Berg, states that 35.5 million Americans, including 12.6 million children live in what the federal government calls "food insecurity" meaning that these people are not sure they will have money for their next meal; they are either hungry or on the brink of hunger. Berg states that extra obesity is one of the symptoms of poverty.

In the Obesity-Hunger Paradox, the Bronx is used as an example: residents have a high rate of obesity and approximately 37% of the residents responded that they lacked money to buy food at some point in the last 12 months. Berg makes the point that when someone is hungry, that person is going to try to satisfy his or her hunger as cheaply as they can. Poor neighborhoods typically don't have availability to full grocery stores, but do have fast food and convenience store options that are laden with nutritionally depleted, processed foods. Dr. Grandpa has an excellent discussion of the economics behind the food industry in his blogs Full, or True Cost Accounting for Food, Part 1 and Full Food Cost Accounting: Part 2. Designing Foods for Craving.

The whole issue of food processors, government subsidies, poverty and health care are huge. But, getting back to McNamara's point, perhaps an additional facet of the problem is the hopelessness of the poverty that makes people not care about their weight or their health. McNamera's insights make it evident that a true solution to the problem is going to involve individuals understanding their worth and finding their own reason to live a healthy lifestyle. Regardless of your financial situation or your weight, a healthy lifestyle requires a daily commitment. Dr. Grandma's can provide the nutritional information, insights from the latest research, tips for products and great tasting recipes help make your commitment a reality.