Up On the Soapbox: Fighting the Obesity Epidemic

By | June 28, 2013

This morning, I spent my first cup of coffee reading this piece from The Atlantic, in which author David H. Freedman discusses the problems associated with prescribing the “wholesome food solution” as a cure for America’s obesity epidemic. It’s a two-fold problem, really. First, many foods touted as “healthy” may not be as saintly as they seem. Fried kale chips? 300-calorie fruit juices? Not great. But the more important part of the problem is the cold, hard truth of the obesity epidemic: no matter how much healthier it is to eat whole foods, some people are still going to eat junk food.

Sadly, based on many of the comments, some people don’t seem to be getting the point at all! Commentator after commentator lambastes Freedman as being a paid shill for the Big Bad Food Industry. They think he’s saying that fast food is healthy and that healthy food is a waste of money.

No, people. That’s not it at all!  “How hard is it to put a piece of fruit in a bag?” one commentator sneers. Well, it depends. Do you already have the apple? For thousands of people living in the food deserts of America, obtaining healthy food is work that requires already scarce money and time. “It only takes 10 minutes to make a smoothie from scratch,” another commentator chimes in. Well, sure. If you already have blueberries and pomegranates and yogurt in your home. Oh, and also a blender. And a reusable to-go cup. And don’t forget a kitchen.

As Freedman – maybe too eloquently – says, “The pernicious sleight of hand is in willfully confusing what might benefit them—small, elite minority that they are—with what would help most of society.”

So here’s the thing: People are gonna keep eating Big Macs. I don’t eat them, and maybe you don’t either – but the numbers don’t lie. Huge numbers of people are going to continue to eat huge numbers of Big Macs – no matter how many times you tell them to go eat a piece of broccoli. So let’s try a different tactic – let’s make the Big Mac just a little bit healthier.

So, the question isn’t whether an apple is healthier than a cheeseburger. The real question is: What’s healthier? A full-fat Big Mac or one with 100 fewer calories? For those of us who never eat fast food, the question doesn’t really matter, does it? But for the millions of obese Americans who eat (and enjoy!) fast food on a regular basis, it could be a radical change.

Now, I’m off to enjoy a bowl of whole-wheat couscous with organic tomatoes and fresh herbs from my garden…even though a cheeseburger does sound delicious right about now.

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