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“Republicans For More Fat Kids”: More Fat And Dumb Kids Just Means More Future Republican Voters

Some days you have to wonder where the Republicans would draw the “if Obama’s for it, we’re against it” line. I can’t think of a single instance these past five years when Barack Obama endorsed something and Republicans said, “Hey, that’s actually a good idea!” The comic nadir, you’ll remember, was when Obama was for lower taxes (of the payroll variety), and they even contrived a way to be against that, at least for a while.

So it should not come as a surprise to us that now Republicans want more fat kids. And the reason Republicans want more fat kids is straightforward and predictable: Michelle Obama wants fewer of them. And that’s all they need to know. If she’s fer it, they’re agin’ it.

I’m talking of course about the school lunch program food fight going on now between the first lady and the GOP House. At Mrs. Obama’s behest, the school lunch program was overhauled in 2010 to include more fresh fruits and vegetables, fewer overall calories, somewhat smaller portions, and other goals, all in an effort to do something about the childhood obesity epidemic, in which the percentage of young children (6-11) who are obese has nearly tripled in the last 30 years and the percentage of adolescents (12-19) has more than quadrupled.

I remember thinking, back in the early days of the administration, when Mrs. Obama had those kids planting kale in the White House vegetable garden and step-classing with her to beat the band, that this was no anodyne first lady project. It was obvious at the time to anyone who grasped the basic logical connections that if she was really serious about American health, she was going to run like a locomotive right into some of the most powerful corporate interests in America—the handful of huge food conglomerates that stock most of what sits on our grocery shelves, and more specifically the ultra-powerful sugar lobby. This ain’t adult literacy. This is power politics, I knew, and push would eventually and inevitably come to shove.

She also, perhaps unwittingly, brought herself face-to-scowling-face with the clique of Americans who not only hate her husband (and by extension her) but who think “liberty” means that they must be able to eat and drink anything they damn well please. I say “perhaps unwittingly” because there was probably no way for her to know back in late 2008 and early 2009 that a simple effort to get kids to exercise and eat greens would become not a point of trans-ideological commonality but yet another ideological ground zero, or that the Big Gulp would become part of the culture wars. But sure enough, there was (who else?) Sarah Palin, sipping from one at her 2013 CPAC speech, and sugar became something that real conservatives embraced.

And so here we are, with House Republicans, led by some Alabamian (improvement: at least he’s not a Texan) named Robert Aderholt, who denies climate change, too, by the by, on the cusp of passing legislation that would let districts that want to opt out of the new school lunch standards.

The stated reason is that the new standards have created added expense—fresh fruits and vegetables cost more than canned ones—and some districts have been losing money. That, I readily allow, is true. You can read this GAO report (.pdf) to get up to speed on some of the problems school districts have encountered in implementing the new standards. As rollouts go, the new school lunch program hasn’t been great—better than Obamacare, certainly, and Windows Vista and iOS7 (reminders that the private sector screws these things up, too), but certainly a little top-heavy and inflexible on the rule-making side.

But many districts also swear by the new rules, as was evidenced Tuesday by the administrators who appeared with Mrs. Obama at the White House to defend them. And the Department of Agriculture, which runs school lunches, has already made some changes the GAO report recommended. So it seems they’re trying to get it right. And remember, please remember: The new program comes after many years of school cafeterias across the country farming out their lunch operations to McDonald’s and the like, thus ensuring that kids were gorging themselves every day on some of the worst sewage you can put in a human body. So the new effort is a sea change for the better.

If there are kinks, iron them out, of course. But that isn’t really the Republicans’ game. Their proposal is relatively mild only because they know nothing harsher would see the light of day in the Senate. But if they take over the Senate, watch for a watering-down or defunding of the whole business.

But what about the science, you say? Yes. It’s irrefutable. Sugar makes people fatter and, in all likelihood, dumber. But what does that matter to Republicans? I mean, hey; more fat and dumb kids just means more future Republican voters.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, May 28, 2014

May 29, 2014 Posted by | Childhood Obesity, Republicans | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Lethal But Legal”: Rethinking Our ‘Rights’ To Dangerous Behaviors

In the last few years, it’s become increasingly clear that food companies engineer hyperprocessed foods in ways precisely geared to most appeal to our tastes. This technologically advanced engineering is done, of course, with the goal of maximizing profits, regardless of the effects of the resulting foods on consumer health, natural resources, the environment or anything else.

But the issues go way beyond food, as the City University of New York professor Nicholas Freudenberg discusses in his new book, “Lethal but Legal: Corporations, Consumption, and Protecting Public Health.” Freudenberg’s case is that the food industry is but one example of the threat to public health posed by what he calls “the corporate consumption complex,” an alliance of corporations, banks, marketers and others that essentially promote and benefit from unhealthy lifestyles.

It sounds creepy; it is creepy. But it’s also plain to see. Yes, it’s unlikely there’s a cabal that sits down and asks, “How can we kill more kids tomorrow?” But Freudenberg details how six industries — food and beverage, tobacco, alcohol, firearms, pharmaceutical and automotive — use pretty much the same playbook to defend the sales of health-threatening products. This playbook, largely developed by the tobacco industry, disregards human health and poses greater threats to our existence than any communicable disease you can name.

All of these industries work hard to defend our “right” — to smoke, feed our children junk, carry handguns and so on — as matters of choice, freedom and responsibility. Their unified line is that anything that restricts those “rights” is un-American.

Yet each industry, as it (mostly) legally can, designs products that are difficult to resist and sometimes addictive. This may be obvious, if only in retrospect: The food industry has created combinations that most appeal to our brains’ instinctual and learned responses, although we were eating those foods long before we realized that. It may be hidden (and borderline illegal), as when tobacco companies upped the nicotine quotient of tobacco. Sometimes, as Freudenberg points out, the appeals may be subtle: Knowing full well that S.U.V.’s were less safe and more environmentally damaging than standard cars, manufacturers nevertheless marketed them as safer, appealing to our “unconscious ‘reptilian instincts’ for survival and reproduction and to advertise S.U.V.’s as both protection against crime and unsafe drivers and as a means to escape from civilization.”

The problems are clear, but grouping these industries gives us a better way to look at the struggle of consumers, of ordinary people, to regain the upper hand. The issues of auto and gun safety, of drug, alcohol and tobacco addiction, and of hyperconsumption of unhealthy food are not as distinct as we’ve long believed; really, they’re quite similar. For example, the argument for protecting people against marketers of junk food relies in part on the fact that antismoking regulations and seatbelt laws were initially attacked as robbing us of choice; now we know they’re lifesavers.

Thus the most novel and interesting parts of Freudenberg’s book are those that rephrase the discussion of rights and choice, because we need more than seatbelt and antismoking laws, more than a few policies nudging people toward better health. Until now (and, sadly, perhaps well into the future), corporations have been both more nimble and more flush with cash than the public health arms of government. “What we need,” Freudenberg said to me, “is to return to the public sector the right to set health policy and to limit corporations’ freedom to profit at the expense of public health.”

Redefining the argument may help us find strategies that can actually bring about change. The turning point in the tobacco wars was when the question changed from the industry’s — “Do people have the right to smoke?” — to that of public health: “Do people have the right to breathe clean air?” Note that both questions are legitimate, but if you address the first (to which the answer is of course “yes”) without asking the second (to which the answer is of course also “yes”) you miss an opportunity to convert the answer from one that leads to greater industry profits to one that has literally cut smoking rates in half.

Similarly, we need to be asking not “Do junk food companies have the right to market to children?” but “Do children have the right to a healthy diet?” (In Mexico, the second question has been answered positively. Shamefully, we have yet to take that step.) The question is not only, “Do we have a right to bear arms?” but also “Do we have the right to be safe in our streets and schools?” In short, says Freudenberg: “The right to be healthy trumps the right of corporations to promote choices that lead to premature death and preventable illnesses. Protecting public health is a fundamental government responsibility; a decent society should not allow food companies to convince children to buy food that’s bad for them or to encourage a lifetime of unhealthy eating.”

Oddly, these are radical notions. But aren’t they less “un-American” than allowing a company to maximize its return on investment by looking to sell to children or healthy adults in ways that will cause premature mortality? As Freudenberg says, “Shouldn’t science and technology be used to improve human well-being, not to advance business goals that harm health?” Two other questions that can be answered “yes.”

 

By: Mark Bittman, Contributing Op-Ed Writer, The New York Times, February 26, 2014

March 2, 2014 Posted by | Consumers, Public Health | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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