Child Obesity, Junk Food Tie Worldwide

The Indian Junk Food Industry

The bad news: childhood obesity is on the rise in many places around the globe. The good news: it’s not exclusively an American problem. And if that is what we’re willing to settle for in the good-news department these days, we’re in deep chocolate pudding.

Geoff Cumming tells us that New Zealand, one of the world’s five most obese nations, has tried with varying degrees of success to limit the amount of sugar in products, legislate a ban on junk food advertising, and restrict what can be sold in schools. (We have discussed junk food in American schools earlier on this blog. )

Now, New Zealand’s Stroke Foundation has learned that “hidden” sodium in processed foods makes up more than 80 percent of the salt eaten by children, which doesn’t bode well for their futures as grownups in a country where heart disease and strokes kill more people than cancer does. Salt overload is a cheap way to enhance flavor, but, in combination with the fat, sugar, and other ingredients of the typical snack product, it does no good at all for the circulatory system. It’s also rough on the poor, because lower priced “house” brands have more salt than “name” brands in the grocery aisles. Geoff Cumming of the New Zealand Herald comments,

Yet salt has escaped the blowtorch applied to saturated fats, sugar, alcohol and tobacco as health watchdogs try to change behaviors to reduce premature deaths and soaring medical costs.

In neighboring Australia, the way has been paved for the introduction of fast food franchises into the national parks. The Heart Foundation, which is supposed to be keeping an eye on things, seems (according to critics) to give its seal of approval to any food that applies for it.

In South Africa’s wealthiest provinces, college students spend most of their disposable income on food, and 40 percent of the “food” consists of snacks, we are told by journalist Zwelakhe Shangase. To investigate the noshing habits of these students, the University of South Africa’s retail and marketing departments teamed with Student Village, a company that specializes in marketing to the young.

Shangase interviewed a representative of that company and has learned that although the students gain in girth, they do seem to spend responsibly. Also, the small percentage who have store charge accounts are able to keep them paid up.

In Mexico, one study identified a quarter of the grade-school-age children as obese, causing the government to announce a ban on sweet drinks and fried foods in schools. In Chile, with an obesity rate of over 60 percent, the Health Minister wants a junk food tax, a notion that has met with great opposition.

“Americanized Mexican” food is moving into many countries at an astonishing rate, along with its corporate siblings, the chicken place identified with a certain American state, and the pizza place named after the type of building that many developing nations use as dwellings. This corporation alone has 3,500 outlets in China alone, so extrapolate at will! Observant travel bloggers report that while Paris, a city with few such eateries, also has few obese residents, the historic streets of other European capitals with many junky franchises contain (no surprise here) many obese Europeans.

In Britain, nine out of ten toddlers are fed highly pleasurable but nutritionally suspect food, and consumers have been shown to spend, on average, one quarter of their food budgets on junk food: mainly crisps (potato chips), chocolate, and soda. Although chef Jamie Oliver has worked so hard to improve conditions in the schools, which now serve higher-quality food, fast food establishments magically spring up around schools, negating a large part of the authorities’ efforts.

The kids want “takeaway,” and the obliging “tuck shops” sell them what they want. On the other hand, Her Majesty’s realm has succeeded in reducing the salt level in some products by 40 percent, and a “fat tax” on junk food and soda is being considered.

Kuwait is one of the fattest places, with 74 percent of its population being overweight. Although its citizens are among the wealthiest in the world, and could easily afford more nutritious food, they seem to prefer the highly pleasurable but dangerous products of fast-foot chains, and, in Kuwait, even the burger joints make home and office deliveries.

Jordan’s consumer protection society wants the government to restrict junk food in schools, and especially to control advertising directed at kids. The situation overall is in fact so dire that, as Reuters recently reported, the World Health Organization wants all of its 193 member nations to limit the kinds of foods served in schools, control advertising directed at children, and generally get serious about overweight children, especially the 42 million of them who are under five years old.

If you’re traveling this summer, please share your observations about the visible childhood obesity levels in other lands. Tell us all about it!

Source: “Pure, white and deadly,” New Zealand Herald, 05/08/10
Source: “Bling is big with varsity students,” Times LIVE, 05/06/10
Image by Abhisek Sarda, used under its Creative Commons license.

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