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Daily Archives: January 20, 2012

An addendum to eating skinny

Ah politics, one way or another, you get dragged in.

I responded to a comment yesterday on my post about eating skinny yesterday that basically agreed with what I’d written about the Australian study that purported to show that America’s obesity problem had less to do with physical activity and more to do with eating too much.  Originally I’d quit reading the article that I linked to after the first few paragraphs but the comment gave me reason to go back and delve more deeply.  It turns out, there’s quite a bit to point out, as examples of science hijacking reality then twisting it to support a hypothesis.

Take for instance, this quote from the article:  “Swinburn said that the food industry has been “extraordinarily successful” in promoting excessive intake of calories. “They’ve worked their marketing out to the nth degree. They’ve got the products that we like to eat, they’ve got the price right—in fact the price of junk food has been coming down for years and is getting cheaper and cheaper. Food is everywhere. In the 1970s, in Australia, when you went to a petrol station you used to buy petrol. Now it’s a chocolate and fast-food station. The food industry has done all they can to sell their products, and they’re doing it extremely well.”

Now, anybody who knows anything about gas station management, and it just so happens that I do to a small extent (certainly a much greater extent than Dr. Boyd Swinburn), knows that gas stations rely on food and pop sales to generate their profit and thereby keep their doors open.  A typical gas station will sell about 3,000-5,000 gallons of gas in a day and make about $0.03-$0.05 per gallon.  That gives a gas station about $150-$250 a day to pay: employees, the heat bill, electrical bill, taxes, and building cost/maintenance.   It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that this is not possible.  The gas station makes 10 times the profit on a can of pop than on a whole gallon of gas.  By the way, while we’re on gas stations, have you ever been upset that gas prices surge during holiday weekends because you figured it was profiteering?  I have, until I realized that gas station owners have to pay time and a half and double time for their employees just to keep the doors open…oops.  In any event, Dr. Swinburn is taking advantage of one industry’s need to make a profit in order to keep their doors open and shifting it to some mystical, dark subterfuge on the part of a food marketing cabal.  His conclusion seems to me to be ideologically bent.

The very next paragraph:  “The food industry has also mastered promotion, especially to the most vulnerable and impressionable members of society—children. “Over the past 30 years they have become very sophisticated in marketing and advertising that is particularly iniquitous in relation to kids. They are adept in the way they turn kids into liking, preferring, demanding, and pestering for the foods that they advertise.”

Having two young girls of my own, girls who absolutely know that they have their dad wrapped around their finger, know better than to hit me with commercials that they see while watching Phineas and Ferb.  Mainly because we have regular discussions about it, but also because I don’t want to be interrupted when I’m watching my favorite cartoon, but I digress…  The idea, proposed by the good doctor, that my wife and I are too lazy or inept to raise our own kids properly is at the same time, repugnant and silly.  Not only do I take my kids to gymnastics and swimming lessons during the week, I take them (with my wife) for regular bike rides in the summer, we run shorter kids races together (and occasionally at home just for fun) – in fact, I run the Teddy Bear Trot with my girls after my favorite 10 mile race every summer and I take them swimming at the local high school in the winter.  It shouldn’t be a surprise that they’re both very healthy.  The problem is not that the manner in which I raise my kids is rare, or even in the minority, it’s in the fact that a small percentage of the population isn’t willing to do what I am.

There’s much more of course:

“ACC spokesperson Dr Matthew Sorrentino (University of Chicago), agreed that Swinburn and colleagues verified what experts in the obesity field had long suspected.

“The main cause of the obesity epidemic in this country is the wide availability of high-caloric foods and the fact that we are eating way too many calories in the course of a day. Exercise has much less impact.”

As I demonstrated yesterday, because of my level of activity, I need high calorie content food – I can’t maintain my weight without it, so the question becomes why must I be harmed?  In fact, without high calorie content food, I would actually be required to overeat just to maintain my weight.  How ironic.

“Sorrentino said that about 90% of weight loss is achieved by cutting calories; only about 10% of weight loss is achieved by significantly increasing physical activity”.

I debunked that statement myself, without a PhD or blaming someone else of course, I would suggest therein lies the problem – I’m not blaming anyone.

“There needs to be a population-based approach to teach people how to count and cut calories, choose whole foods instead of packaged foods, and increase their awareness of just how fattening going out for dinner can be.

“Studies have shown that when you go out to eat, most individuals will eat on average 500 more calories per meal than they would eat at the same meal at home. There are now huge varieties of fast food, in packages and in fast-food restaurants, and they are usually calorically dense, full of carbohydrates, and sweetened, so they taste good and you want more. Years ago, you had to prepare food; now they’re all prepared for you.”

First of all, let’s decode “population-based approach to teach people how to count and cut calories” because decoding is required.  You would assume based on that statement that this would mean some program, possibly in our schools that teaches kids the importance of a well-balanced diet or that adults are complete idiots because they don’t know that a salad has fewer calories in it than a Burger Value Meal with a large fries (and a diet cola).  I wonder what something for the adults would look like, because we obviously don’t have that…ahem.  The problem lies in the fact that most people know better, they just don’t care.  We do, of course, have that for the kiddies too.  They learn about food every year that they’re in school.  The problem is more than that because obesity has grown even with the implementation of that ongoing program.

So how does the government, that so often loves to take responsibility for “the population”, make people care?  “Population based approach” would then come down to the government (State, Local or Federal), forcing the population to complyDon’t agreeI’ll live.  The end result is that I can’t take home enough for lunch the next day from a dinner at The Gourmet Wok because somebody else has to eat their entire meal (if you’re ever in or around Flint, Michigan check it out – they are absolutely the best around in my opinion).  In reality, what we need is for people to put their money (or time) where there mouths are.  In other words, if you feel it necessary help your community by setting up a class and even charging admission for your time to teach people how to eat, by all means do that.  I am, but I can’t divulge what those plans are because it’s just not ready yet, but I can say, it’s big.  What we don’t need is the fat hand of government forcing us to comply with what some doctor (or group thereof) deems utopia for all based on sampling only a third of society.  This has its limits of course and I don’t advocate no government at all, but jeez folks, these yahoos can’t even balance a check book for crying out loud (hell, they can’t even get within the same ballpark lately), they have enough to worry about until they can get within a hundred billion dollars or so to leave my plate alone.  Some would argue that politicians should be able to talk and chew gum at the same time, but they’re so far off, I’m doubting it.

This statement demonstrates how right I actually am:  “Promoting physical activity has been the favored approach to solving the problem of obesity by politicians and the food industry, said Swinburn. “It’s relatively uncontroversial, there are no commercial competitors, it’s a positive thing to do, so politicians, egged on by the food industry, heavily promote the physical-activity side of the equation.”

So, politicians egged on by the food industry?  The food industry is protecting my right to eat what I want, where I want and when I want.  The problem lies in the definition of “want” as I stated yesterday.  Maybe the politicians can pass a law defining what want is.  I’d bet that takes more than a thousand pages.

UPDATE:  I almost forgot running into an article by the LA Times in which they discuss the failure of switching the school lunch menu to healthier food.  From the mouths of babes:

The juniors pull three bags of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and soda from their backpacks.  “This is our daily lunch,” Iraides says. “We’re eating more junk food now than last year.”