Fight for Your Food Rights

Who’s to blame for the obesity epidemic? The suspects are many, from television to schools to parents. A growing number of people are arguing that one culprit – the food and beverage industry – is getting off relatively scot-free.

Fashion magazines, infomercials, and our own past failures seem to place all of the blame on the individual. We’re constantly reminded that we’ve screwed up, or that we’re not good enough, or that being overweight is the result of some personal defect. Not true, not true, and REALLY not true.

Personal choice and personal responsibility play huge roles in building a healthy lifestyle. Nobody can do it for you, but throwing up your hands, feeling powerless, and blaming other people is no answer. But recognizing the effect that food and beverage marketing can have on your psyche, attitude and actions is important too. When you recognize what they’re doing, you can more effectively fight back and make your own informed decisions.

"The food industry is changing, but slowly," says Dr. Kelly Brownell, author of Food Fight, a look at America’s obsession with food and what we can do about it. "Dieters can become ‘media literate.’ This means being vigilant to and upset about the multiple layers of persuasion the industry uses to get them and their children to eat unhealthy foods (not only the obvious food ads on TV, but product placements in shows and movies, pricing strategies, etc.)."

According to Dr. Brownell, we should pay particular attention to:
  • Portion sizes that are getting out of hand
  • Value pricing that encourages consumption
  • Food and beverage marketing to children
  • The presence of sugar (a 20 oz bottle of Coke has 15 teaspoons)
  • Lifestyle choices that promote overeating, such as television and eating out
  • Gaining easy access to healthy food

A good place to start looking at is in school. Many of us would be shocked to learn just how sugar-packed and calorie-laden school food really is. Menu choices are often very limited and surprisingly unhealthy. Faced with these choices every day, it’s no wonder more than 15% of teenagers are overweight. They can’t win this fight on their own. You have to help your schools make choices for them. Talk to your school boards and principals. Ask that soda machines be removed and that menus follow USDA nutritional guidelines.

Says Dr. Brownell, "School systems all around the country are taking on this issue, first by getting rid of soft drinks in vending machines. This movement is growing and will probably be joined soon by more organized efforts to get rid of unhealthy snack foods, improve school lunches, and increase physical activity."

At home, it’s important to think critically about what you’re eating. People make mistakes all the time, thinking that they’re eating healthy when they’re really not. Mainly, it’s because they’re not paying quite enough attention. For example, Dr. Brownell cites parents giving their kids "sugared drinks with fruit in the name or sports drinks, thinking kids are getting something healthy," is a common mistake, along with "eating whatever is in a bag, box, or bottle, thinking they are having just one serving," when it could easily be 2, 3, or more.

It’s never too late to start. In fact, today you can take a few simple steps to make your kitchen healthier. Dr. Brownell suggests starting by immediately throwing out "soft drinks, sugared cereals, high calorie snacks, and almost any product with a cartoon character or celebrity attached."

The food and beverage industry is a formidable foe. While the "5 A Day" vegetable and fruit program gets $2 million to promote its message, the Altoids mints brand alone is free to spend $10 million. With so much money and so many resources behind them, it’s easy to see how this could affect your food choices.

Even so, it’s your job to make sure the right choices are still made. With enough information and a vigilant stance, you can do it.