Magnitude of obesity epidemic demands sweeping changes
Most everyone who watches or reads the news has seen the wide coverage of the study projecting that obesity will plague 42 percent of Americans by 2030.
Just as significant was the news that insulin is proving ineffective for teenagers who are struggling with Type II diabetes. In fact 40 percent of children with newly diagnosed diabetes have Type II diabetes, the type closely associated with obesity.
For the last few months I have turned a lot of my time and focus on the governmentís role in the obesity epidemic. After reading and learning about food stamp fraud in the Northeast, I looked a little deeper.
Itís my belief that the food stamp program in America is a perfect example of unintended consequences, of the solution to one problem resulting in another serious problem.
Make no mistake; prior to the introduction of food stamps during the Great Depression, malnutrition was a serious national problem. We had massive farm surpluses in the countryside, and millions of malnourished people in our cities. The first Food Stamp program helped put that surplus food into 20 million hungry mouths.
Fast-forward to present day and more than the programís name has changed. Now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), food stamps cost American taxpayers as much as $65 billion in 2010.
As of October of 2011, the program fed 46 million Americans. Malnutrition is virtually non-existent in America. We have also just upped those funds for the next year.
Unfortunately, we now suffer from rampant mis-nutrition.
If you think the SNAP program is expensive at $65 billon, think about the direct medical costs related to obesity: $ 147 billion per year (2008). Almost three quarters of Americans today are either overweight or obese. Nearly one in five children is clinically obese.
Clearly, there is a problem with what is going into American shopping carts.
There is too little fresh meat, fish, vegetables and fruit in American grocery bags, and too much processed, packaged, shrink-wrapped, manufactured pseudo-food in our pantries.
Sadly, American taxpayers are paying for a fair amount of it.
An epidemic of obesityís magnitude requires a serious change in how we supplement the food supply for impoverished Americans. I propose that our elected leaders in Washington think very seriously about strictly limiting what foods can be purchased with taxpayer funded SNAP dollars.
In fact, we already impose limitations; beneficiaries canít use their SNAP EBT cards to buy alcohol or cigarettes. Why not take it one step further and prohibit the purchase of processed foods that are making us fat and sick, at least with the money coming out of taxpayersí pockets?
Where would you draw the line? If it comes from the meat, seafood, produce or dairy sections, itís probably good to go. Or maybe we could use an even more general standard: if my 100-year-old grandmother would recognize it as food, it passes the test.
On the other hand, if the ingredient list includes added sugar, high fructose corn syrup, synthetic trans-fats, industrial seed oils, any ingredient name longer than three syllables, or if it would survive a nuclear holocaust, then put it back on the shelf, or at least buy it with your own money.
That sound you hear in the distance is the frenzied hiring of Washington lobbyists at the mere suggestion that there should be nutritional standards for the food purchased with taxpayer dollars.
Certainly the big corporations that profit from selling hyper-processed, chemical-laden food-like products arenít going to easily surrender a significant stream of revenue.
But even the slickest lobbying campaign canít ignore or rationalize what we see with our own eyes: an entire generation of kids getting fatter and fatter, sicker and sicker, while the resulting health care costs spiral toward the stratosphere.
We solved the problem of malnutrition by helping people buy food. We can make a dent in the crisis of mis-nutrition by helping people buy the right food.
We simply canít afford not to.
Louis Yuhasz is the founder of Louieís Kids, a non-profit organization with a mission of ending obesity one child at a time. www.LouiesKids.org.