How The Food Industry Is Enabling The United States’ Obesity Epidemic

Our guest blogger is Danielle Moodie-Mills, an Advisor for LGBT Policy and Racial Justice at the Center for American Progress and the Director of Environmental Education at the National Wildlife Federation.

Obesity has long been framed as an issue of personal responsibility. The prevailing notion has been that if people simply stop eating junk food and start eating healthy fruits and vegetables, they will maintain a healthy weight.

And even though most Americans agree that obesity is a critical public health issue facing the nation — 83 percent of Democrats, 71 percent of Independents and 65 percent of Republicans rank it as a “serious issue” — opinions about how personal responsibility factors into the epidemic are somewhat divided along party lines. Democrats tend to believe that both the individual and government are responsible for combating the obesity epidemic, while Republicans believe the onus falls largely on the individual.

The “personal responsibility” argument assumes that people can simply avoid sugar and other unhealthy additives by staying away from fast foods. But Dr. Robert Lustig, the author of the new book Fat Chance, explained this week on MSNBC’s Morning Joe that avoiding sugar — which he believes to be a major cause of America’s weight issue — may not be as easy as it seems:

One-third of the sugar in our diets comes from soda and sweetened beverages, you can taste it. One-sixth is in desserts, you know about those as well, but half of all the sugar consumed in this country comes from food you didn’t know had sugar in it — like hamburger buns, hamburger meat, and salad dressing, for instance.

So even when people make a concerted effort to make healthy choices, there is still a great possibility that they are consuming the very product that is causing their weight gain. And the government isn’t doing enough about it.

A few years ago, a group of doctors at Mount Sinai took out an advertisement in the New York Times pressuring the government to stop subsidizing food that was making Americans sick. “High-fructose corn syrup [HFCS] now represents 40 percent of the non-calorie-free sweeteners added to U.S. foods. It is virtually the only sweetener used in soft drinks,” the research physicians wrote in their advertisement. “Because of the subsidies, the cost of soft drinks containing HFCS has decreased by 24 percent since 1985, while the price of fruits and vegetables has gone up by 39 percent.”

But after the negative comments regarding HFCS went viral, corn refiners simply released a commercial rebranding HFCS as “corn sugar,” and purporting the safety of the re-named additive saying “corn sugar or cane sugar, sugar is sugar and your body doesn’t know the difference.” Watch it:

Nearly one-third of American children and adolescents are labeled as overweight or obese, and they are expected to be the first generation who won’t live as long as their parents due to high cholesterol, diabetes, and other metabolic diseases. So will the government finally see fit to engage in the sugar debate and take a hard look at the crops they are subsidizing — or will Americans have to wait for this epidemic to reach its precipice, much like the battle against cigarettes? Let’s hope not, because the current health care system may just break under the extra weight.