Diet for a Not-So-Small Planet: America's Latest Cultural Export-Obesity?

By Clarke, Kevin | U.S. Catholic, April 2004 | Go to article overview

Diet for a Not-So-Small Planet: America's Latest Cultural Export-Obesity?


Clarke, Kevin, U.S. Catholic


AMERICA IS TRYING TO PUT THE WORLD ON A DIET. TROUBLE is, it's one that will likely project our bad eating habits even further around the world. U.S. fast-food mega-corporations already span the globe. They're part of the reason nutritionists at the World Health Organization now worry about "globesity," the increasing worldwide tendency to get a little tight around the belt because of the adoption of the fat- and sugar-rich diet long popular in the developed world.

WHO wants to establish new nutritional guidelines, mostly aimed at improving the diet of the world's children. Increasingly kids even in extremely poor cultures have access to the calorie-rich but nutrition-poor food options that have turned First World kids, particularly in the U.S., into undernourished, overweight couch potatoes.

Obesity is one of the leading contributors to bad health in the U.S. It increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and other ailments and accounts for billions in additional health care costs. Nations in the developing world, already struggling to manage a plateful of other economic challenges, literally cannot afford to get fat. The WHO plan calls for diets that limit sugar and fat intake, recommends restrictions on food advertising to children, and advises countries to use taxes and subsidies to reduce the price of healthful foods.

Who could argue with such common-sense recommendations? Turns out, the U.S. can. The homeland of fast food, the nation that invented the sugar rush, the world leader in obesity has single-handedly stalled the WHO campaign. The Bush administration says the "science is not there" for some proposals, particularly the contention that restrictions on advertisements directed at kids would reduce obesity in children. The administration also argues that WHO policy should emphasize the role of personal responsibility in controlling weight.

Pity that calls for personal responsibility rain down on the tail-end of bad policy, never on the people who actually wield the power. Don't food manufacturers and Madison Avenue have personal responsibilities of their own when it comes to making and marketing foods that are, frankly, killing many of us?

Yale obesity expert Kelly Brownell says: "This is a great example of the food industry bullying the government, and the government bullying the [WHO]. Our government adopts this pious attitude about how the science is lacking, where common sense tells you that these recommendations are pretty mundane: Eat less fat and eat less sugar. …

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