Obesity and Food Culture

In an article written by Bridget Murray (Monitor Staff), she outlines the real reasons, as explained by Kelly Brownell, PhD., a Yale University Professor, why Americans are heavier now than ever before.

Toxic food environment

Brownell explains that the reason why we have grown fatter over the years is not so much because we lack self-control but because the fast-food industry has grown more and more accessible and their advertisements are omnipresent, a constant lure to draw people in.

To site an example, Brownell notes, "Whoever thought you could go eat at a gas station? While you’re pumping your gas you punch in the Fritos, the Twinkies and the Coke, and somebody brings it to your car. So the physical activity required to go in and get it is eliminated."

It is obvious in this case that indeed, unhealthy food items are everywhere. To make things worse, you do not even have to take a single step to get them – they are brought to you, thus eliminating the chance to walk even a short distance.

Although Brownell acknowledges genetics and self-control as likewise causes of weight-problems, they pale in comparison to bad fast-foods. And though medical treatments and procedures are available, Brownell says, "the costs of treatment outweigh the benefits," adding that the rate of weight-gain relapse are still high.

Promoting healthier foods

To remedy the situation, Brownell believes it is going to take "broader-scale policy fixes that promote healthier foods and behaviors across American society," stressing the importance of looking at it not as individual cases or problems but as problem of the American population.

"It’s important for us to look at this from a public health point-of-view, where we’re not so concerned with how overweight an individual is, but how overweight the population is," adds Brownell. "Genetics is what permits the problem to occur, but environment is what drives it."

Passive acceptance

What Brownell is particularly concerned about is what he calls America’s "passive acceptance of unhealthy food." He even compared fast-food ads to cigarette ads, noting that there is little or no difference to what they want our children to do.

"We take Joe Camel off the billboard because it is marketing bad products to our children, but Ronald McDonald is considered cute," said Brownell. "How different are they in their impact, in what they’re trying to get kids to do?"

Toxic signs

Brownell warns against these alarming "toxic signs":

Ubiquitous unhealthy foods – high-fat, high-sugar foods are widely and readily available, from vending machines to fast-food chains who deliver. These unhealthy foods are good tasting and they cost less healthy foods.

Huge serving sizes – notice how fast foods keep increasing their serving sizes. The idea here is "more for less." Case in point: McDonald’s has "super-size it".

Unhealthy foods advertisements – unhealthy foods advertisements are as ubiquitous as unhealthy foods themselves. They are on printed materials, on TV, on the radio, etc. These ads make these unhealthy foods look sumptuous and appealing.

Lack of physical activity – today most Americans get very little exercise, preferring to drive to wherever they are going rather than walk or ride a bikes.