Food Swamp, USA
Highly effective impulse marketing strategies have been perfected for selling junk food. Obesity rates have skyrocketed.
Woody Allen's character Alvy Singer begins his opening monologue in Annie Hall with an old joke. "Two elderly women are at a Catskill mountain resort, and one of 'em says, "Boy, the food at this place is really terrible." The other one says, "Yeah, I know; and such small portions."
In that little joke lies some of our most complex problems, says Jeff Schechtman in this week's Specific Gravity interview. Schechtman's guest this week is Dr. Deborah Cohen, author of A Big Fat Crisis: The Hidden Forces Behind the Obesity Epidemic — and How We Can End It. "Obesity is the public health crisis of our time," Cohen says, pointing out that two out of every three adults and one out of every three children are either overweight or obese. Obesity leads to chronic diseases and kills hundreds of thousands of people every year.
So where has the obesity epidemic come from? Cohen points out that in the early 1980s there was a sudden acceleration in the rate of obesity. The number of people considered obese eventually doubled by 2000. According to Cohen, this was due to the food industry mastering certain marketing practices that succeeded in getting more and more Americans to consume junk food. The result, she says, was "the food industry has turned our country into a food swamp."
So what can be done about this? In the podcast below, Cohen says the food industry's marketing efforts cannot easily be countered through appeals to "personal responsibility." That simply hasn't worked. Instead, Cohen argues that limited restrictions need to be placed on the way that certain foods are marketed, similar to the way that restrictions have been placed on the marketing of alcohol.
Listen to the podcast here:
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