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The Western Diet is overwhelmingly prevalent in the U.S.A. and growing in ubiquity globally.

Why is a diet that is so unhealthy (See the previous post or NPR: How Western Diets Are Making The World Sick) so common?

The simple answer is we just really like the taste of it (Maybe a little too much).

(Photo: http://thisiswhyurfat.wordpress.com/2010/06/28/the-50-pound-burger/)

However, there is more to this story than just food preferences and demand for the Western Diet. Food economics plays a large role in this diet’s prevalence.

Cost of food plays a huge influence on our food choices. And in general, calorie-dense, nutrient-low foods cost much less than nutrient-dense, calorie-low foods. (For example, a calorie-dense, nutrient-low food may be a bag of candy, while a nutrient-dense, calorie-low food might be a head of lettuce).

(http://depts.washington.edu/uwcphn/reports/brief1.pdf)

This chart above from Adam Drewnowski and Petra Eichelsdoerfer in their article “Can Low Income Americans Afford a Healthy Diet?” shows that calorie dense foods, like oil and sugar, have a low energy cost in comparison to nutrient dense foods like tomatoes and lettuce, which have a high energy cost.

This has been a trend since the 1970s. As the chart below shows, prices of fruits and vegetables have been rising from 1978-2008, while the price of soda has decreased.

(http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/03/09/why-a-big-mac-costs-less-than-a-salad/)

Why does this occur?

(http://www.pcrm.org/magazine/gm07autumn/health_pork.html)

This chart  shows that although the USDA recommends we eat mainly eat whole grains, fruit, and vegetables, the federal subsidies for 1995-2005 were mainly for meat and dairy. This is why a burger is cheaper than a salad. The chart shows that vegetables and fruits only receive .37% of federal subsidies in comparison to meat and dairy, which receive 73.80% of federal subsidies.

How did we get to this place? Michael Pollan explains the food subsidy situation in “You Are What You Grow,”

For the answer, you need look no farther than the farm bill. This resolutely unglamorous and head-hurtingly complicated piece of legislation, which comes around roughly every five years and is about to do so again, sets the rules for the American food system–indeed, to a considerable extent, for the world’s food system. Among other things, it determines which crops will be subsidized and which will not, and in the case of the carrot and the Twinkie, the farm bill as currently written offers a lot more support to the cake than to the root. Like most processed foods, the Twinkie is basically a clever arrangement of carbohydrates and fats teased out of corn, soybeans and wheat–three of the five commodity crops that the farm bill supports, to the tune of some $25 billion a year. (Rice and cotton are the others.) For the last several decades–indeed, for about as long as the American waistline has been ballooning–U.S. agricultural policy has been designed in such a way as to promote the overproduction of these five commodities, especially corn and soy.

That’s because the current farm bill helps commodity farmers by cutting them a check based on how many bushels they can grow, rather than, say, by supporting prices and limiting production, as farm bills once did. The result? A food system awash in added sugars (derived from corn) and added fats (derived mainly from soy), as well as dirt-cheap meat and milk (derived from both). By comparison, the farm bill does almost nothing to support farmers growing fresh produce. A result of these policy choices is on stark display in your supermarket, where the real price of fruits and vegetables between 1985 and 2000 increased by nearly 40 percent while the real price of soft drinks (a k a liquid corn) declined by 23 percent. The reason the least healthful calories in the supermarket are the cheapest is that those are the ones the farm bill encourages farmers to grow.” 

That is why the second Food Day principle is:

Support sustainable farms & cut subsidies to big agribusiness

To learn more, check out:

http://foodday.org/why-eat-real/five-principles-sustainable-farms.php

http://michaelpollan.com/articles-archive/you-are-what-you-grow/

http://farm.ewg.org/

http://www.ewg.org/agmag/2011/06/top-10-things-you-should-know-about-the-farm-bill/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+AgMag+%28Environmental+Working+Group+AgMag%29

 

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It’s no secret that obesity is a problem in the U.S.

(http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/trends.html)

In the last few decades, there has been a dramatic shift in obesity rates across the country. In 1994, no state had an obesity rate higher than 20%, but as of 2009, only one state has an obesity rate lower than 20%.

In 2009, 63.1% of adults in the U.S. were either overweight or obese. 17% of children and adolescents aged 2—19 years are currently obese, and since 1980, obesity prevalence among children and adolescents has almost tripled.

Research has shown that as weight increases to reach the levels referred to as “overweight” and “obesity,” the risks for the following conditions also increases: Coronary heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, Cancers (endometrial, breast, and colon), Hypertension (high blood pressure), Dyslipidemia (for example, high total cholesterol or high levels of triglycerides, Stroke, Liver and Gallbladder disease, Sleep apnea and respiratory problems, Osteoarthritis (a degeneration of cartilage and its underlying bone within a joint), Gynecological problems (abnormal menses, infertility).

The economic costs of obesity and obesity-related diseases are estimated to be about $147 billion, as of 2008.

There are overflowing, nefarious consequences of obesity, so the question to be had is: what causes obesity?

It seems simple: obesity is an energy imbalance. If you take in more energy than you expend, you gain weight.

But then the bigger question is: why is obesity such a problem right now?

The answer to this question is not because we, as a population, have gotten less responsible about our eating habits. As Kelly Brownell et. al say, “If irresponsibility is the cause of obesity, one might expect evidence that people are becoming less responsible overall. But studies suggest the opposite. . .[Data on health-related behaviors] do[es] not support claims of declining responsibility.” (Personal Responsibility And Obesity: A Constructive Approach To A Controversial Issue).

So to answer this question, we have to look at the change from our past food environment to our current food environment. The change, as many including Michael Pollan call it, is a shift towards a “Western Diet.”

(The Western Diet, as defined in photo by Wikipedia)

There is no question as to the Western Diet’s ubiquity, especially at fast food restaurants, where 50 million Americans eat daily. Furthermore, 49% of every U.S. food dollar is spent on food eaten outside the home (according to researchers at the Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition Science). Combine this with facts such as:

  • Teens ages 13-17 purchase 800-1,100 calories in an average fast food meal, roughly half of their recommended total daily calories.
  • A survey of 7318 diners at fast-food restaurants in New York City found that one third purchased 1,000 calories or more for a lunchtime meal.
  • Adults eating at fast-food restaurants consume 205 more calories per day than those who do not eat out; children consume 155 more calories. Children consume almost twice (1.8 times) as many calories when eating food made outside the home, compared to eating at home.
  • McDonald’s and Burger King automatically serve french fries with kids’ meals at least 86% of the time, and soft drinks at least 55% of the time.

And it is no surprise that obesity is so prevalent.

The undeniable fact is that the Western Diet has led to a rise in obesity rates, which has led to a rise in obesity-related diseases.

That is why the first Food Day principle is:

Reduce diet-related disease by promoting healthy food

And in upcoming blog posts, we will discuss what eating real healthy food means!

More Resources at: http://foodday.org/why-eat-real/five-principles-reduce-disease.php

and check out this great graphic from NPR: http://www.npr.org/2011/05/19/135601363/living-large-obesity-in-america

“Our goal on Food Day is to inspire people all over the country to organize thousands of events on October 24 to celebrate healthy, delicious eating and to solve local communities’ food problems.”*

Let’s change the way we eat!

 

This is the basic mantra behind the first annual national Food Day, the brainchild of the Center for Science in the Public Interest and the Food Day Advisory Board, which includes Honorary Co-Chairs U.S. Representative Rosa DeLaura from Connecticut’s third district (which encompasses New Haven!) and U.S. Senator Tom Harkin from Iowa.

The Food Day Advisory Board includes current and past New Havenites such as Kelly Brownell (the director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity), David Katz (the director and founder of the Yale Prevention Research Center), and Josh Viertel (now the President of Slow Food USA, and the co-founder and former co-director of the Yale Sustainable Food Project), as well nationally-known food advocates like Michael Pollan, Alice Waters, and Marion Nestle.

Why have all these foodies come together for Food Day 2011? Because we need to change the way we eat and the way our food system operates.

Food Day New Haven is committed to this change by advocating for:

1. Reducing diet-related disease by promoting healthy foods
2. Supporting sustainable farms & cut subsidies to big agribusiness
3. Expanding access to food and alleviate hunger
4. Protecting the environment & animals by reforming factory farms
5. Promoting health by curbing junk-food marketing to kids

In the next coming blog posts, we will go into more detail about what’s wrong with the way we eat and our broken food system, as well as what’s right with grassroots and national food movements!

Support the national Food Day movement and well as Food Day New Haven!

More Resources:

*Check out executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest Michael F. Jacobson’s article introducing Food Day!

Read the Food Day launch press release!

Eat real.

On October 24th, 2011, celebrate, advocate, and enjoy real food by joining Food Day New Haven!

Joining Food Day is a commitment to:

1. Reducing diet-related disease by promoting healthy foods
2. Supporting sustainable farms & cut subsidies to big agribusiness
3. Expanding access to food and alleviate hunger
4. Protecting the environment & animals by reforming factory farms
5. Promoting health by curbing junk-food marketing to kids

Food Day is a time to advocate for better food in a variety of ways, ranging from health and chronic disease to food justice and security, sustainability, education, animal welfare, and junk food advertising to children. And, of course, there will be delicious food to eat!

Join the New Haven Food Policy Council, the Yale College Student Food Coalition, and Community Partners to make a stand for better food!

Learn more about Food Day at: http://foodday.org/ and look out for more information about Food Day New Haven soon!

Also, feel free to email us at fooddaynh@gmail.com !