Fast Food Still With Us, Childhood Obesity Too

McDonald's giant

A few days ago, Childhood Obesity News mentioned the thoughts of some food policy experts rounded up by The New York Times, but did not yet mention Diane M. Gibson, who is an associate professor at Baruch College, as well as Director of the NY Census Research Data Center. Her work concerns the weight-related health impact of means-tested social programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, still commonly known as “food stamps.”

Gibson has learned that in America, 42% of low-income women are obese, and the percentage is even higher if they’re on food stamps. (Strangely, this is not true of men in the program.)

If the use of the benefit is extended anywhere, Gibson would like to see more farmer’s markets getting involved. On the other hand, she seems leery of the “food desert” theory, which holds that often, people in the lower economic strata are obese and/or undernourished only because healthy food is unavailable. She very tactfully phrases a doubt that is shared by many:

It is often assumed that increasing the availability of supermarkets in low-income areas will lead to more nutritious food choices and healthier weight status for SNAP participants… [I]t is not clear that more supermarkets lead to better food choices or lower the rate of obesity among low-income individuals.

Dr. Pretlow sometimes quotes the words of a 230-pound teenage girl who wrote:

… there ARE healthy affordable foods where i live, it doesn’t mean that we buy them. I don’t think [these people] have thought about the fact that there are multiple mcdonalds in every town.

Yes, we’re back to McDonald’s, because it represents the quintessential epitome of its own genre. Just as McMansions are the McDonald’s of upscale housing, McDonald’s is the McDonald’s of fast food. One of the reasons why accessibility to grocery stores may not make a difference is that other food-peddling establishments are still present in the environment. Lots of them. Legions and scads and gazillions of them.

If critics are to be believed, what we get in these places is not quite food, since ingredients are added to it that, while government approval may be in place, there are still many doubts concerning. Some of the doubts have to do with the potentially addictive nature of additives and even of such seemingly acceptable substances as sugar.

If it were scientifically and irrefutably discovered that food addiction is the main cause of the obesity epidemic, Dr. Pretlow is very interested in what the repercussions might be. Will food companies someday be held liable for health damages, as cigarette companies sometimes are? A couple of years ago, a former McDonald’s manager sued the company. He worked there 12 years and gained 65 pounds, and the court awarded him $17,500. But that was in Brazil.

Henry Ford pioneered the assembly-line mass-production of cars, and gave us not only affordable cars, but horrendous highway fatality statistics and air pollution. McDonald’s pioneered the assembly-line mass-production of food, and gave us not only affordable food, but the ever-swelling obesity statistics and a future of guaranteed medical bills. Such a deal!

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Food Stamps and Obesity,” The New York Times, 09/28/11
Source: “Judge: McDonald’s must pay obese employee $17.5K,” The Seattle Times, 10/28/10
Image by Vacacion (Miguel Vaca), used under its Creative Commons license.

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Childhood Obesity News | OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say | Dr. Robert A. Pretlow
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