Monday, 2 June 2008

Big business to blame for bulging bellies

A few blogs have recently featured the large Baskin-Robbins’ Heath Shake due to it’s ridiculous amount of calories: 2310 calories! This is equivalent to 11 Dunkin Donuts’ jelly filled donuts or 7.5 McDonald’s cheeseburgers or 25 cups Coke! It's more than the total number of calories most of us should be getting over a whole day!!

It’s pretty disgusting but Marion Nestle, Professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at NYU, introduces an interesting perspective. She points out that corporate execs aren’t sitting around a table trying to find ways to make people fat. Instead, they’re trying to sell food in an “overabundant marketplace” and to simply get sales. According to her, it’s this overabundance of food (and aggressive marketing) that can be blamed for the obesity crisis.

Currently, the US food supply provides an average of 3900 calories per capita for every man, woman and child in the US- that’s more than 2 times the average need for the population. In 1980, the availability was 3300- this 600 calorie increase can be linked to the rising obesity rates. There are numerous “eat more” strategies that help corporations sell off more food:

Increasing portion sizes: the largest movie theatre cups now holds 64 oz soda- that’s ~800 calories worth of soda (without ice)! Portion sizes have increased 2-5 times since the early 80s.

Variety: food marketers introduce 15 000-20 000 new food products every year into a food system that already has more than 300 000 food products! For example, in 1990, there were 6 different types of Oreo cookies- there are now 27 different types!

Low prices: Why is it that at McDonald’s you can buy 5 hamburgers for the price of one salad? Government subsidies support the production of certain foods like partially hydrogenated vegetable oils and corn. Foods that have these subsidized ingredients cost less per calories. Food cost in the US is the lowest in the world- 10% of income. The true food cost is actually paid through taxes rather than at the supermarket.

It’s all just business- the obesity epidemic is just an unfortunate outcome.


Remillard G, ed. Understanding and overcoming obesity, the need for action. Health Decision Series. Nestle M. Health, Diet, and the Politics of Dietary Guidelines: Commentary. Montreal: Decision Media. 2006.


Jme said...

Woh! This reflection on the economy is great information! Hopefully people dont read this and feel discouraged! We can still make a difference, and anyone that thought it was just changing the culture at McDonald's or DDs headquarters was naive in the first place.

Jme said...

Furthermore, I read an article in Harper's recently describing the economy as "phony". It explains how the numbers that we look at (GDP, etc.) are only quantitative and not qualitative, meaning that it only measures the volume of the economy, not if the economy is doing valuable things and in an efficient, sustainable manner, but just how much how much how much? The example that they give is that when the health care industry is measured as doing well what does that mean? It certainly does not mean that everyone is healthy, so why would we measure it as a positive?

Sybil Hebert, RD said...

Hey Jme,
Thanks for reading and for your comments.
Re: comment 1- just wondering what kind of difference we can make.
Re: comment 2- are you suggesting that the numbers provided in my blog are wrong or can be interpreted differently?