Culture, Economics, Ethnicity, and Childhood Obesity (Part 2)

Mexican Feast

Childhood Obesity News has been looking at the cultural, economic, and ethnic factors that may contribute to children being overweight or obese. Those three realms of life are sometimes very difficult to discuss separately because in many cases they are intertwined. We talked a bit about the Hispanic community in the United States, and there is more to say.

For instance, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which has been extensively involved with childhood obesity issues, is now sponsoring Salud America!, a program dedicated to preventing childhood obesity among the country’s Latino population. They make grants to people who work with after-school programs, and there is a nifty newsletter to sign up for. The website offers such interesting items as an interactive toolkit, La Mesa Completa, that show pastors and other community leaders how to guide families into better dietary habits.

Dr. Glenn Flores teaches pediatrics at UT Southwestern Medical Center and Children’s Medical Center in Dallas. In the course of interviewing him, journalist Barry Carpenter learned that, as one mother phrased it:

When you’re Latino everything is fried the majority of the time.

Dr. Flores set out to influence that situation by retrofitting the Latino menu in ways that would both alleviate the obesity problem and be acceptable to diners. This is always the tricky part of any reform scheme. Just imagine the revolutionary impact of tortillas made without lard. A chef may cook whatever he pleases, but unless he and his diners are all stuck someplace like a work camp in the frozen tundra, if people don’t like the food they won’t eat it. Especially kids.

But the volunteers who scientifically taste-tested the doctor’s enchiladas gave them a big thumbs-up. He told the reporter:

They were pleasantly surprised. Most of them admitted to us that they didn’t think it would taste good, but they couldn’t tell with the enchilada. They said, ‘I think this is delicious, I didn’t even know this was low fat cheese and that was multi-grain.’

Now, as for the American culture in general, we have quoted Dr. Pretlow on this subject before, and his words are worth repeating:

Junk food and fast food companies need to be regarded as harming health, similar to the shift in attitudes about tobacco companies.

Health lawyer and columnist Michele Simon has a sharp memory for experts she has interviewed in the past. Over time, obscure issues tend to come to the surface, and blatant issues tend to recur. In 2006, she spoke with law prof Richard Daynard of Northwestern University, about the growing tendency of the food industry to donate money to activist groups in hopes that they would not openly criticize the food industry. Wasn’t that similar to the tactics successfully used by the tobacco industry? This was Daynard’s answer:

It’s very interesting. Phillip Morris was a very active philanthropist. They particularly gave money to minority organizations, and basically bought silence. There have been a number of articles written about how the tobacco companies bought silence, particularly from black organizations. They also would advertise very heavily in minority media; one of the few national companies to do it. It resulted in the black organizations and the black media basically not getting the word out that they were among the principal victims of this industry. They also advertised in early feminist publications, such as Ms. Magazine when that was the leading feminist magazine. So they bought Gloria Steinem’s silence. They bought a lot of peoples’ silence by buying ads.

Julie Deardorff reported from Chicago on a local organization called Vive en Forma (Get Fit for Life) whose activism consists of taking an education booth to health fairs, festivals, and other venues where large numbers of the public may be found. They are able to do this thanks to a generous grant from Coca-Cola. Deardorff quotes the organization’s president, Teresa Farias Latter:

We don’t tell people to avoid soft drinks.

There is a very strong resemblance between the tobacco industry and the food industry. Additionally, they both resemble another business. Down in South America, the godfatherly lords of the cocaine industry, who generously fund clinics and many other benevolent enterprises, are said to be beloved by the people in their own neighborhoods. How much forgiveness should money be able to buy?

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “The Latest Advances in Fighting Latino Childhood Obesity,” Salud Today
Source: “Making tortillas withouth lard,”, 12/22/11
Source: “Mimicking Big Tobacco, Big Soda blows smoke in Philadelphia,” Grist, 04/04/11
Source: “Critics pounce on Coke, Pepsi health initiatives,” Chicago Tribune, 02/04/12
Image by DinnerDiary, used under its Creative Commons license.

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