Obesity and the Obama Administration: A Blogger Roundtable Discussion

Ask any doctor or health expert to tell you what's the most pressing medical issue in American today and he or she will say, "Obesity." Not cancer, not heart disease, not high blood pressure, but obesity. All it takes is a simple look around the country to see that most Americans need help with their diets.

Once again, I thought this was a perfect issue to bring to the Casual Kitchen Blogger Roundtable (see other Blogger roundtable discussions here at Casual Kitchen). And so, I sent this question around to our roundtable team members:

What is your top suggestion for the Obama administration to help solve America's obesity epidemic?

As expected, their responses were blunt, creative and further proof that great ideas come when we think together. Here are their thoughts:

Joy, author of What I Weigh Today:
The most important thing is to implement health insurance reform that would provide income-sensitive coverage for everyone and that would include prevention, nutrition counseling, access to fitness centers, early and regular testing for the so-called lifestyle diseases and mental health care.

Another extremely important action the Obama administration could take would be to remove the subsidies built into the farm bill that make it profitable to mass produce the kinds of food that compromise our health while making it expensive and difficult to grow the kinds of food that promote health. Greater oversight and regulation of the processed food industry is also urgently needed.

Joanne, author of Eats Well With Others:
First of all, BAN HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP. Unlike glucose or other sugars, the human body has difficulty regulating the absorption of fructose, and it can easily lead to insulin-resistance and diabetes.

Second, EDUCATION IS KEY. Before I set about losing my fifty pounds I had no idea what a calorie was. Sure, I knew what was “good” and “bad” but only in a very abstract way. For example, how many people realize a 1500 calorie McDonald’s value meal is equal to their calorie expenditure for the day, or one lemon poppy seed muffin from Costco has the same calories as 10 apples?

A good way to remediate this would be to start teaching kids about nutrition when they are young. We can teach them the difference between first and second order foods and introduce them to fruits and vegetables in an appealing way in the same way we have DARE programs in schools to teach children that drugs and alcohol are bad.

Tara, author of Beach Eats:
My suggestion would be to focus on some combination of nutritional education and the revision of school lunch programs. I believe its important to build a foundation for life-long healthy eating and what better place to start than with our nation's youth? If school lunch programs could be revamped to focus on fresh, whole foods, rather than salty, fatty, manufactured junk, we might begin to develop a broader segment of the population committed to eating well from the start.

Jules, author of stonesoup:
Educate, educate, educate. If people don't know the basics of preparing fresh, nutritious inexpensive and most of all satisfying food, we will never be able to beat obesity.

Tyler, author of 344 Pounds:
While the obesity epidemic is a serious health risk to America, I don't believe it's the responsibility of any government--Republican or Democrat--to tell anybody how they should live their lives, even if it's "for their own good." While I support trying to solve the obesity epidemic in America, I don't believe it's the government's job to protect people from themselves.

That being said, there are wonderful organizations operating with private donations (including mine) like Bill Clinton's Alliance for a Healthier Generation. It tries to educate our youth on the benefits of eating healthy, exercise, and the risks of obesity.

Readers, here's your chance to sound off. What are your thoughts on this issue?

Related Posts:
How Food Companies Hide Sugar in Plain Sight
Stacked Costs and Second-Order Foods: A New Way to Think About Rising Food Costs
15 Creative Tips to Avoid Holiday Overeating
Why Our Food Industry Isn't So Bad After All
The Problem with Government Food Safety Regulation

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Holly said...

I'm shocked that anyone would consider banning HFCS. I'm not a fan of it - but to ban a food instead of letting people make their own choices - that's insane and it is the antithesis of the freedom we enjoy as Americans. Why not just require labeling on HFCS foods just like cigarettes require the surgeon general's warning on tobacco?
Ban it? Honestly? Let's just ban salt, sugar, butter and eggs too. I mean anything is bad for your health if you eat it too much.
I'm with Tyler - our government isn't here to monitor each spoonful we consume. What ever happened to personal responsibility?

The Diva on a Diet said...

Hello Dan, and thanks for hosting another interesting and informative roundtable! I'm so sorry I wasn't able to link up yesterday, this whole laptop crash has thrown my week for a loop. :(

As usual, I'm thoroughly impressed by the thoughtful answers here. They all make such good sense to me ... now let's hope the administration is reading your blog!

Daniel said...

Hi Holly, thanks for your comment. I definitely agree that there would be overwhelming civil liberties issues with banning HFCS, but in defense of Joanne's point, let me say that I had to edit down her contribution and unfortunately had to cut out a paragraph in which she describes, in detail, the physiological havoc HFCS wreaks with insulin levels in our bodies. She is working on her MD/PhD and has quite a bit of context on the negative effects of fructose in general and HFCS in particular. I think the forcefulness of her response underlines some legitimate concerns.

Diva, thanks as always for participating, your input is always highly insightful. Looking forward to our next one!


Joanne said...

Thank you Dan for defending my point.

Holly, I understand your opinion and think that it is of course a good idea to let people make their own choices. But please allow me a minute to plead my case. Fructose is not processed in the body in the same way that glucose is and is thus not subjected to the same sensor mechanisms. Your body has a way of sensing how much glucose you have just eaten and so it tells your cells to stop synthesizing any more of it. This keeps your blood sugar levels within a healthy range. Fructose is not sensed, however, and so when you eat it your body continues to make glucose because it doesn't realize that it actually has enough sugar. This contributes to insulin resistance and glucose intolerance, both of which are hallmarks of Type II Diabetes. I just don't see any reason to use HFCS when there are better alternatives out there, such as brown rice syrup or just plain glucose, that don't have the same negative effects.

I almost must point out that there comes a time at which the costs associated with obesity-related illnesses, such as heart disease and diabetes, will just become too much for our economy to bear, so at some point it does become the government's responsibility to monitor consumption (at least if we want to keep Medicare and Medicaid around, which is a whole other issue). We have to consider the fact that the government already makes many decisions that impinge on our personal responsibilities, such as choosing to make narcotics like cocaine or heroin illegal. Why did they do this? Because when people do these drugs they become a threat to themselves and occasionally to others. The consumption of HFCS is much more pervasive than that of hard drugs ever was and its negative impacts have been far greater. You can disagree with me, but I think that if it is within the purview of the government to regulate these items, than it is certainly okay for it to regulate HFCS.

AJ said...

What a neat idea to hold this roundtable! Get bloggers talking about a hot-button issue.

I'm not convinced education alone will work. Plenty of people know that high fat and sugar foods are bad for you, but they still eat them. I think what we need is greater transparency, for situations like the earlier post on the ways sugar is hidden in foods. What if we put warnings on these foods like the kind you see on alcohol and cigarettes, informing people that it may lead to diabetes, heart disease, etc.?

Also, has anyone ever wondered why they don't label produce? Maybe putting food labels by the fruits and vegetables at the grocery store would help when everyone sees how low-calorie and nutrient-dense they are.

I suppose then that this is still education, but it's education with transparency.

Brittany said...

Instead of banning high fructose corn syrup, way don't we end the corn subsides and sugar tariffs that lead to it being so damned cheap?