Stan Dorn, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, a public policy research center in Washington, D.C., has stated succinctly that “some companies are making huge profits off obesity.” There are people who wish to fight obesity by incorporating tactics used against the tobacco industry. What ultimately proved to be effective in reducing tobacco use was to hold cigarette manufacturers accountable for harmful products.
Kelly Brownell, author of Food Fight, a book published in 2004 which criticizes a “toxic food environment” in American culture, has also this year co-authored a paper titled “The Perils of Ignoring History: Big Tobacco Played Dirty and Millions Died. How similar is Big Food?” The comparison he makes between the tobacco industry and Big Food shows the same tactics being used to fight off criticism. According to Brownell, “the common strategies include dismissing as ‘junk science’ peer-reviewed studies showing a link between their products and disease; paying scientists to produce pro-industry studies; sowing doubt in the public’s mind about the harm caused by their products; intensive marketing to children and adolescents; frequently trotting out supposedly ‘safer’ products; denying the addictive nature of their products; and lobbying with massive resources to thwart regulatory action.”
One side will argue that consuming unhealthy food is a choice, and that most people are fully aware that eating food loaded with fat, sugar and salt is unhealthy. That position was also used by the tobacco industry, which denied the addictive nature of tobacco. A Scipps Research Study done in 2010 showed that “the same molecular mechanisms that drive people into drug addiction are behind the compulsion to overheat, pushing people into obesity.” This study and others have had little effect on Big Food. The annual revenues of the fast food industry have continued to rise, while the number of ads aimed at children have also increased. The result, as we all know, is that the obesity rate among children and adults continues to rise. A full 35% of American adults are obese, while obesity rates for children have doubled in the last 30 years and quadrupled in adolescents.
The costs of obesity to our society are great. Kaiser Health News estimates that obesity accounts for $147 billion to $190 billion in yearly expenditures, while the health costs of tobacco continue to drop and are now estimated at $96 billion annually. The report states that “after decades of lawsuits, damning reports about industry practices, and stop-smoking campaigns, smoking rates have plummeted, from a high of 42% of adults in 1965…to just over 19% today. Meanwhile, obesity has been soaring since the 1980’s…Currently, 45 million American adults are smokers, while 78 million adults and almost 13 million youngsters are counted as obese.”
The first fight against tobacco involved emphasis on personal responsibility and voluntary self-regulation. It didn’t work. Only when anti-tobacco advocates switched their emphasis from changing individual behavior to holding cigarette manufacturers accountable for harmful products, did Americans heed the message that their health was being compromised for profit.
Interestingly, while most of the lawsuits aimed at Big Food have failed in America, a Russian consumer protection agency has filed a lawsuit against McDonald’s, as was reported by the New York Times on July 26. The suit calls for a ban on certain products. The claim accuses “the restaurant chain of violating government nutritional and safety codes in a number of its burger and ice cream products.” The case will be heard on August 13. While a lawsuit in Russian against an American company is probably a political game, at least it focuses on the detrimental affects of eating Big Food.
The fight against tobacco took decades, and despite the fact that it isn’t eliminated, it was largely an effective battle. As more studies will emerge concerning the dangers of Big Food to our health, and as the public becomes more aware of just how much fat, salt and sugar there is in these “foods”, I believe we can reduce our dependence on unhealthy food.
Recipe of the Week
Many people will continue to justify eating fast food because they don’t have time to cook. Unfortunately, this is true for most families, but the way to provide home-cooked food is to plan menus and create them on the weekend. The following is not so much a recipe as a demonstration of a “kit” that is partly purchased and partly cooked, and one that will provide a couple of different meal options throughout the week.
2 pounds of lamb leg steak, trimmed of fat and cut into 1″ pieces
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
10 grindings of fresh pepper
Place the lamb pieces in a large container, coat with oil and salt and pepper
Marinate in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 hours.
Prepare a grill, put the lamb on spits and grill for three minutes per side.
Yogurt Sauce with Garlic, Cucumber and Mint
5 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 cucumber, peeled and finely chopped
2 sprigs of fresh mint, chopped (optional)
1 1/2 cups non-fat plain yogurt
Mix all of the above.
I then purchased mixed greens, Greek olives, goat cheese, hummus and pita. I now have ingredients for pita sandwiches with lamb, yogurt sauce, hummus and lettuce. I also have ingredients for a Greek salad for another meal. You can substitute feta for the goat cheese in the salad, and add any other vegetables you wish.