In this column, I have written about the cultural issues that have contributed to obesity, for example, the fact that our portions are larger than they used to be – our plates are larger, our recipes are larger, and the pots and pans are larger. Another cultural phenomenon is the great reduction in frequency of family meals. People are eating when they can, instead of eating together as a family. There have been studies that support the idea that family meals can foster better grades, reduce overeating (thus affecting obesity) and even reduce drug abuse. And we have discussed all of the small physical things that have been replaced by technology. For example, we no longer roll down car windows, open cans with a mechanical opener, cross the room to answer the phone, or get up to change the TV channel. We have also talked about small things that we can do to eat together, like making breakfast our family meal or planning family meals during the week.
We can never go back. Our culture has changed. If we want to address issues of obesity we should address the changes in our culture that have changed our lives and the way that we eat. We should not just demonize certain companies or certain foods. I think that we need to address all of the ways that our changes in attitude have changed our lives. So here is my Top 10 List in no particular order:
- Underfunding schools so that they eliminate Physical Education and recess. This gives the message to our young people that physical activity is not important.
- Snacks in school, which teaches our young people that they need to eat all the time.
- The feeding of our children the cheapest school lunches, which often will not include fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Eating in our cars, walking down the street, and everywhere else except the table.
- Failing to keep the streets safe enough for children to play outside, so that children stay at home and play computer games and watch television instead of playing with each other, and making it unsafe to walk or ride a bike to school.
- Creating neighborhoods without sidewalks, building streets that are difficult to cross on foot, and in so many ways making walking an impossible mode of transportation.
- Trying to blame the companies that make food taste seductively good in our corporate, free market system, while expecting food to remain cheap and easy to serve. We are looking for a simple, almost magical solution to a complex problem. Even as we blame the companies who make the highly processed food, we praise their stock value and fail to vote with our wallets for healthier food.
- We eat too much.
- The government subsidizes food in a legacy system that is convoluted and antiquated, yet we blame the companies that take advantage of it.
- We try to change behavior that we have created by enacting bans and legal restrictions, while we fail to change the laws that created the problem. Perhaps changing the subsidies would change corporate behavior in a way that would encourage healthier eating.
We could expand this list to 15 or 20 with your suggestions.