Living

Should the government enforce a healthier food standard?

We’re getting fatter, there’s no doubt about that. Obesity rates are increasing among adults and children in North America, and we’ve never been so concerned about how weight influences health.

Masterfile

We’re getting fatter, there’s no doubt about that. Obesity rates are increasing among adults and children in North America, and we’ve never been so concerned about how weight influences health. So far, politicians and health officials have responded to rising concern about obesity by proposing changes that target the consumer. To ‘correct’ poor beverage choices, NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants to limit consumer’s ability to buy sodas over 16 oz.

But more and more, some experts in public health are beginning to question whether or not it’s more appropriate — if not practical — for the guardians of public health policy to direct their attention to those selling the food, i.e., ‘big food,’ or the food and beverage industries.

Many argue that the food and beverage industries should be held to a higher standard when it comes to offering more nutritious food to consumers. In fact, the editors of PLoS Medicine, a journal published by the Public Library of Science in the U.S. (via MedPage Today) devoted a recent issue to exploring this concern.

In an online editorial, the editors addressed the connection that exists between public health and the food and beverage industries.  

Wrote the editors: “Food, unlike tobacco and drugs, is necessary to live and is central to health and disease. And yet the big multinational food companies control what people everywhere eat, resulting in a stark and sick irony: one billion people on the planet are hungry while two billion are obese or overweight.”  

The solution, according to researchers Dr. Marion Nestle of New York University and sociologist David Stuckler of Cambridge University is pretty simple: make and sell more nutritious food.  

In an essay, the academics made the argument that to “…promote health, industry would need to make and market healthier foods so as to shift consumption away from highly processed, unhealthy foods.”  
Unfortunately, the reasons why this isn’t the case are also simple: “such healthier foods are inherently less profitable.”  

While the industry has yet to choose to reduce its profit margins in the interests of public health, that doesn’t mean that governments and public health organizations shouldn’t make an increased demand for such changes.

At the moment, however, that push-back from officials is sorely absent. Once again, putting the onus for public health back on the consumer.  But that may not be such a bad thing. Until public health officials and the food and beverage industries catch on (or develop a conscience), perhaps consumers can show them both how positive changes are made.