US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Fight the flour that be!

Kevin Clarke | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

If you knew of an obvious public safety hazard that contributed to the deaths of 300,000 Americans every year--people often left to die a slow, painful, even gruesome death from heart disease and diabetes--wouldn't you expect your government to do something about it?

In 2003 the U.S. Surgeon General reported that nearly two out of every three Americans were overweight or obese and that one out of every eight deaths in America was caused by an illness directly related to obesity. That's the personal cost of our obesity and diabetes epidemic, a fast- and processed-food cattle-prodded death march through the nation's poor eating and exercising habits. Driving the fast food addictees amongs us further along the road to nutritional perdition is the latest craze among purveyors of fast food-crack: the one-third pound, Angus double-beef burger calorie bomb now being served up at virtually every fast food franchise in America after a few years of regional test marketing. Our bellies will be bulging as our local health budgets are imploding.

Even as the dying and diabetes reaches epidemic proportions, there is scant evidence that anyone in authority is seriously considering regulatory mechanisms for curtailing what is becoming a massive public health crisis even as it enriches a few food and agricultural conglomerates. American fast-food consumers are being reduced to surplus-clearing mechanisms for U.S. commodity markets. Forty years ago, just about four percent of 6- to 17-year-olds were overweight. That rate has more than tripled to more than 15 percent. Nearly three out of every four overweight teenagers may become overweight adults. Now as we watch the serving size increase yet again, government health offices issue warnings but little else. We're crucifying another generation of kids being raised on addictive, so-called food.

We've outlawed smoking in public places to promote overall public health. In most states motorcyclists are forced to wear helmets; passengers and drivers in automobiles are now required to buckle up. Airbags have become required equipment on all U.S. automobiles despite the prolonged and determined resistance of the car industry.

These measures and many more like them have saved countless lives even as they've intruded on personal freedom and responsibility, to the initial outrage of many. Hey, no one can tell me when to wear a helmet or snap on a seatbelt! But the overall cost to taxpayers and the common good of the airbagless, unseatbelted mayhem on our streets and highways provided an overriding demand for such government safety innovations.

If the thousands who are dying because of our addictive food policy and the lack of transparency in food production, processing, and delivery were laid out around the shoulders and sidelines of our highways and streets, surely we would be moved to act. Unfortunately most of the suffering and dying goes on behind closed doors in homes and hospitals and hospices across America.

We have built a culture around the delivery of addictive, fat and corn-syrup rich food. Each half decade or so we pile it on a little, wafer-thin-bit higher and then wonder how to respond to the surge of obesity and diabetes that predictably erupts. Maybe before we treat the addicts, we could begin by cutting out--or at least down--the source of their addiction. Our dangerous, short-sighted, fast and fat-rich food strategies are killing us, yet there is little appetite for legislation with some real meat in it aimed at controlling this addictive industry--either by containing portions or requiring greater transparency on industry practices or useful labeling that could better inform consumers about what it is exactly they're putting in their mouths and on their hips, thighs, and bellies.

When I was a child, I drank Coke like a child. That meant a 7-ounce bottle of sugar-sweetened carbonated water with caramel coloring. I've watched that bottle grow to a 12-ounce can, then a 16-ounce bottle, to the new "standard" 20-ounce. Likewise a nation of kids are now being raised on a 64-ounce big gulp of water, ice, corn-syrup and food coloring that was first marketed at 16 ounces. Our appetites have been altered by progressively larger portions that neatly track our expanding waste-lines and the rapid growth of our obesity and diabetes treatment industries. Isn't it time we looked at the source of these problems rather than attempt to treat their expensive and woeful outcomes?