Wednesday, March 13, 2013

West Virginia And Mississippi Duke It Out For The Title-- The Most Obese State Of All


Mississippi is no longer the most obese state in the nation. No, nothing has gotten better there; it's just that as West Virginia sunk deeper and deeper into a depressing right-wing death spiral, their collective waistlines have exploded with stress-related compulsive eating disorders and the dominance of cheap, unhealthy fast food. West Virginia is now the #1 most obese. Mississippi is #2. But Mississippi isn't going to leave it at that. Their political leaders are fighting hard to regain the title of America's Fattest And Most Unhealthy State.

So contrary, secessionist-minded and pig-headed are Mississippi's white political leaders that the state legislature is willing to sacrifice the well-being of the state's impoverished working people with insane laws that encourage obesity just for the sake of being dicks. This isn't about "freedom;" it's about a generation of children being sacrificed on the altar of high fructose corn products.
Mississippi legislators have passed an anti-Bloomberg bill that bars counties from passing and enacting laws that require calorie counts to be posted or caps the size of beverages or foods.

...Americans tend to be surprisingly supportive of restrictive laws aimed at improving public health. The Harvard School of Public Health recently polled 1,187 adults on a slew of public health regulations that aim to do everything from reduce obesity to cutting smoking rates.

A number of the policies in the survey got widespread support. Seventy-five percent supported barring food stamps from being used on sugary beverages (New York City actually tried to do this, but was shot down by the federal government). The same number liked the idea of requiring chain restaurants to reduce their sodium contents (New York City also tried to do this, and failed).

Eighty-percent liked required posting of calorie labels.

There were some regulations that went too far for the respondents: The majority opposed making possession of junk food or sodas a disciplinary offense. Only 37 percent thought that insurers should be allowed to charge the obese a $50 surcharge on their premiums.

The Harvard survey didn’t ask about a ban on large, sugary drinks, so we don’t know from this research whether that specific restriction would garner much support. But the numbers do suggest that lots of people are open to a role for government in regulating unhealthy foods.
Less than a month ago, on my birthday in fact, the NY Times Magazine published an extensive report by investigative reporter Michael Moss (author of Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us) on The Extraordinary Science of Junk Food and made the case, quite convincingly, that the big corporate food conglomerates (Nestlé, Pillsbury, Kraft, Nabisco, General Mills, Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola, Mars, etc.) are just about as concerned about poisoning children with toxic "food" as the tobacco companies were about causing lung cancer-- and are using almost identical tactics... and obviously for the same reason: profits. The CEO of Pillsbury is worried that his company-- and their rivals-- "have gone too far in creating and marketing products that posed the greatest health concerns... from the body’s fragile controls on overeating to the hidden power of some processed foods to make people feel hungrier still."
More than half of American adults were now considered overweight, with nearly one-quarter of the adult population-- 40 million people-- clinically defined as obese. Among children, the rates had more than doubled since 1980, and the number of kids considered obese had shot past 12 million. (This was still only 1999; the nation’s obesity rates would climb much higher.) Food manufacturers were now being blamed for the problem from all sides-- academia, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society. The secretary of agriculture, over whom the industry had long held sway, had recently called obesity a “national epidemic.”

...[A] quote from a Yale University professor of psychology and public health, Kelly Brownell, who was an especially vocal proponent of the view that the processed-food industry should be seen as a public health menace: “As a culture, we’ve become upset by the tobacco companies advertising to children, but we sit idly by while the food companies do the very same thing. And we could make a claim that the toll taken on the public health by a poor diet rivals that taken by tobacco.”

...[T]he one C.E.O. whose recent exploits in the grocery store had awed the rest of the industry stood up to speak. His name was Stephen Sanger, and he was also the person-- as head of General Mills-- who had the most to lose when it came to dealing with obesity. Under his leadership, General Mills had overtaken not just the cereal aisle but other sections of the grocery store. The company’s Yoplait brand had transformed traditional unsweetened breakfast yogurt into a veritable dessert. It now had twice as much sugar per serving as General Mills’ marshmallow cereal Lucky Charms. And yet, because of yogurt’s well-tended image as a wholesome snack, sales of Yoplait were soaring, with annual revenue topping $500 million. Emboldened by the success, the company’s development wing pushed even harder, inventing a Yoplait variation that came in a squeezable tube-- perfect for kids. They called it Go-Gurt and rolled it out nationally in the weeks before the C.E.O. meeting. (By year’s end, it would hit $100 million in sales.)

According to the sources I spoke with, Sanger began by reminding the group that consumers were “fickle.” (Sanger declined to be interviewed.) Sometimes they worried about sugar, other times fat. General Mills, he said, acted responsibly to both the public and shareholders by offering products to satisfy dieters and other concerned shoppers, from low sugar to added whole grains. But most often, he said, people bought what they liked, and they liked what tasted good. “Don’t talk to me about nutrition,” he reportedly said, taking on the voice of the typical consumer. “Talk to me about taste, and if this stuff tastes better, don’t run around trying to sell stuff that doesn’t taste good.”

To react to the critics, Sanger said, would jeopardize the sanctity of the recipes that had made his products so successful. General Mills would not pull back. He would push his people onward, and he urged his peers to do the same.

...The public and the food companies have known for decades now-- or at the very least since this meeting-- that sugary, salty, fatty foods are not good for us in the quantities that we consume them. So why are the diabetes and obesity and hypertension numbers still spiraling out of control? It’s not just a matter of poor willpower on the part of the consumer and a give-the-people-what-they-want attitude on the part of the food manufacturers. What I found, over four years of research and reporting, was a conscious effort-- taking place in labs and marketing meetings and grocery-store aisles-- to get people hooked on foods that are convenient and inexpensive. I talked to more than 300 people in or formerly employed by the processed-food industry, from scientists to marketers to C.E.O.’s. Some were willing whistle-blowers, while others spoke reluctantly when presented with some of the thousands of pages of secret memos that I obtained from inside the food industry’s operations. What follows is a series of small case studies of a handful of characters whose work then, and perspective now, sheds light on how the foods are created and sold to people who, while not powerless, are extremely vulnerable to the intensity of these companies’ industrial formulations and selling campaigns.
Even if states like New York and California start to come around, there will be for General Mills, decades and decades of states like Mississippi and West Virginia, which insist on the freedom to doom their children to lives shortened by adult-onset diabetes and other symptoms of the obesity epidemic sweeping most of what we affectionately call "the red states."

Labels: , , ,


At 12:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...



Post a Comment

<< Home