No simple solution to solving the complex obesity problem

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Harking back to her youth in the 1940s and 50s, New York Times columnist Jane Brody recalls a simpler time when vending machines weren t around, the presence of fast food restaurants was barely perceptible, and ads for prepared foods and sodas were few and far between.

Yeah, right, says ACSH s Dr. Gilbert Ross. Ms. Brody must have a highly rose-tinted memory; her recollections read like something out of a fairy tale.

Writing on the causes of today s obesity epidemic, Brody places much of the blame on the economic interests of food and beverage industries, which, starting in the 1970s, began mass-producing convenience foods rich in sugar, salt, and fat as more women began joining the work force and came to frequently rely on such products to feed their families.

But this is just more of the same, says Dr. Ross. Again, the food industry is getting attacked for giving American consumers what they wanted indeed, what they needed. He adds, By this same logic, I guess we should also blame the auto industry for all the deaths caused by motor vehicle accidents.

Brody also cites Dr. Steven L. Gortmaker, a sociologist at the Harvard School of Public Health, who advocates taxing sugar-sweetened beverages, creating better nutrition labels, and reducing junk food TV advertisements aimed at children.

Tackling the obesity problem will not be solved by simply placing the blame on certain foods or ingredients, says ACSH's Dr. Ruth Kava. Though Dr. Gortmaker believes sugary sodas are the culprit, obesity is still on the rise in developing nations that don t even drink these beverages or consume high fructose corn syrup. This view is too narrow.

Brody goes so far as to analogize the causes of obesity with cigarettes, and suggests comparable anti-smoking policies be implemented to turn the obesity epidemic around. But Dr. Kava points out that eating is not as simple to deal with as smoking you can t just quit eating.

Dr. Ross adds, We have seen this many times before simple solutions that highlight the blame industry, or anyone other than ourselves. Requiring governments to step in and force food marketers to stop their evil ways is much like the approach used on the cigarette industry. But the true cause, or more likely causes, of obesity have not been determined.