Reversing Obesity: What Government Can Do to Help

We are in the dark ages of nutrition. We’re also quickly approaching the dark ages of a health-related food crisis that has eclipsed hunger. Obesity is freakishly wide-spread with the United States leading the charge throughout the Western world.  Our leadership sits idle as the problem continues to escalate.

Only so much of the responsibility can fall on the consumer. Right now, it’s challenging to find healthy, affordable food. Amidst the sea of messages from food marketers that are nothing short of a page from Aesop’s fables, big food and chemical companies are indeed wolves in sheep’s clothing. Instead of intervening to help, our elected officials continue to turn a blind eye to solutions that could create a healthier food system and country.

Elected officials need to start doing the job they sold us into believing they’d actually do: Look out for our interests. This is my wishlist for 2013. Instead of getting steamrolled by big businesses with big money, maybe our voices will be heard.

1)     Start getting behind bills that will actually give consumers the right to know what’s in our food.  Help better fund bills like this, including the communication that goes into letting people know what the bill is about. When this doesn’t happen, bills like California’s Prop 37 fail miserably, largely because big food and chemical companies pumped a
massive wall of money into making the message convoluted, confusing the consumer. I seriously doubt anyone with a sliver of interest in their health would vote against the right to know what’s in their food, particularly genetically engineered foods. But that’s what happened.

2)     Please stop intervening with farm-to-fork dinners. You’re wasting our money. All we want to do is enjoy a meal straight from the farm, cooked by a certified chef and served
to us. Instead, we’re told we can’t have these events unless the food is processed and purchased from a grocery store.  Instead, why not impose greater sanctions on conglomerate factory farms that cut corners on producing foods that have degraded nutritional standards. No, not the standards currently in place, but a new set of standards that will hold the production, processing and quality of food to a higher, nutritionally-sound standard.

3)    Stop creating loop-holes for big food. We all know that trans fats are bad (very, very bad), yet you allow food companies to add it as an ingredient while allowing the label to read trans fat free. That’s just not right, and it’s certainly not looking out for our health.

4)    Create traffic light food labeling. When you read a food label, can you discern whether the food is really good for you or not? Will it give you energy? Make
you gain weight? Make you retain fluid? Of course,  foods affect everyone differently, but why not create a food labeling system everyone can understand as long as they grasp the concept “green means go,” and “red means stop.” New York Times food blogger, Mark Bittman laid out a great concept for food labels that takes a page out of systems that are in use and effective in Great Britain. In fact, a trial study of traffic light labeling of sodas in New York showed to be fairly effective.

5)    Bring regular physical education back into school systems. If your child has a regular PE class in his or her school, consider yourself fortunate. More and more schools across the country have had to cut PE, largely due to budgetary reasons.  At the same time, childhood obesity, and diseases that used to affect the old, now affecting the young, like type 2
diabetes are on the rise. Sometime is very out of balance. Activity is activity. Even if it’s not a formal gym class where students learn a specific sport, regular activity – even if it’s an extended recess where kids can run around, is better than nothing.

Traci D Mitchell is a Chicago-based health and fitness writer and spokesperson. She's on-the-go everywhere trying out new and healthy things with a Chicago appeal. You can reach Traci through ChicagoNow, on Twitter @tracidmitchell or at www.tracidmitchell.com

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    In the United States you can buy, food and food like "things", which are the best of the best and the worst of the worst. You can purchase these "things / food" from the entire eatable spectrum. From wonderful organic foodstuffs to dreadful breakfast cereals that are made up entirely of sugar and processed carbohydrates. I am tired of people whinning about the high cost of "good" food and produce. I can make a highly nutritious meal, in bulk, for as little as 1 dollar per serving, usually 6 servings. BUT my idea of a serving and the majority of America's idea of a serving, well that is where the disconnect is. The problem in the United States IS that very few people know how to cook anymore. And even fewer people know how to cook a nutritious meal. Nutritious meaning what we know about nutrition in the year 2013. There are so many factors that are contributing to this obesity epidemic that I truly believe America is doomed. It has become generational and once this level of nutritional ignorance has been reached, as it has, there is really nothing in place in America institutional wise that can stop it. It just gets passed down to the next generation which worsens and then gets passed down again, on and on. Most great societies and countries erode from within, it has happened time after time and always will. But then again who am I to lecture a nation?

  • In reply to Terrance Smith:

    Hi Terrance, Thanks for the thoughtful comments. I agree that we can pay a lot for junk good-for-you-food, and a lot for plain old junk food. I also agree that we can actually make a healthy meal for very little...if you know what to do with food that doesn't come with directions on the box. You're right...our collective skill sets are far from the kitchen. I'm going to take the optimistic position and suggest that something can be done about it - with education. How? I don't know yet, but I think we're sick enough (as a country) that something has to change. Thanks for reading!

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