CAPITALISM + FOOD = OBESITY?

GUEST POST BY KJ HANSMANN. Read more healthy recipes and thoughts on how communities approach food at Cooking Between Classes.

This graphic from the CDC shows how obesity rates have increased across the country in the past few decades. A professor in my biochemistry class this spring shared this with us, and it was pretty shocking to say the least. Click on the image for more information from the CDC's Web site.

I have been thinking more about the roots of the obesity epidemic since I read The End of Overeating by David Kessler a few weeks ago. And one theme that Kessler touched on his book but never stated outright is that the goals of the food industry and of healthy living are counter to each other. If the measure of success for restaurants and food producers is to increase profits from year to year then it should be no surprise that we’re increasing our waistlines. Especially when you consider that food innovations in the past few decades have been to make what we eat cheaper. We’re eating more food for less money up front – but it’s costing us in terms of health.

This isn’t just true in America though. As the Western (read Capitalist) Diet is spread to other countries, they are beginning to face increasing rates of obesity as well. This opinion piece points out the changing food culture in Brazil and makes some interesting points about how capitalism benefits from “obesity-causing behaviors.” The changes in diet may appear at first glance to be cultural – eating in the car, eating between mealtimes, eating during business meetings, etc. – but they all add up to a culture that supports eating more. Fast foods haven’t just made it more convenient for us to get the daily nutrition we need, they’ve made it convenient for us to eat whenever, wherever. And when these foods are high in sugar, fat and salt, three things we are hard-wired to find desirable because they used to be so hard to come by, we start eating them all the time.

I personally think there needs to be a little more attention paid to how the industry of food intersects with our daily experience of health. Now, I’m not trying to vilify the whole notion of capitalism here. I’m just saying it might be worth considering that an economic system built on increasing consumption might be at odds with the human body, which has negative health consequences associated with consuming more calories than it uses. What we eat is important and if the charts at the beginning of this post are any indication, we haven’t been taking this food consumption conundrum seriously enough.

Is the food industry trying to make us fat? I doubt it’s quite that diabolical. But their gain is, well, our weight gain.

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1 reply

  1. Basically. Nothing against capitalism; it’s just the truth.

    When people are very free, problems like this are bound to happen. The same applies when people are not free enough. I honestly believe the masses need to be guided to maintain balance.

    The obesity problem will not cease in this country. Also – thanks to medical science – obese people are living longer than ever before.

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