Fairest City – The Anger for Enemies

A Huge, Impossible Problem with Enemies All Around

Bummer. The Lancet Obesity Commission report is out today and if you thought that obesity might be a tough problem to solve, you really have no clue. It’s bigger than you ever thought. It’s not just an epidemic. Not even calling it a pandemic is big enough. It’s a syndemic. A huge, impossible problem. It’s three global crises all rolled into one: obesity, hunger, and climate change. In fact, says the report, our very survival is at stake.

Could this ominous threat possibly be any bigger?

Good News: Don’t Blame the Victims

If there’s good news in this report, it’s that these guys have figured out that phase one of dealing with obesity didn’t work too well. That was the phase where we blamed people with obesity. Much of the first few decades of dealing with this problem focused on simplistic prescriptions. Just eat less and move more. If you weigh too much, it’s because you eat too much.

In other words, many public health messages about obesity were all about shame and blame. However, to its credit, this commission acknowledges that stigma is a huge part of the problem.

A New Enemy: Food Producers

The preferred terminology for the new enemy is Big Food. According to the report:

The large, powerful food and beverage corporations (Big Food) have used multiple strategies to obstruct obesity prevention.

The report goes on to say that Big Food is working in concert with Big Polluters, such as fossil fuel and cattle corporations, to undermine action on climate change. It’s a syndemic because we have multiple crises interacting with each other to make it all worse. Enemies are everywhere. Big Food is just like Big Tobacco, except they’ve got us because we can’t live without food.

The solution is simple. We need to start taxing more foods – like red meat. A global treaty to provide the blueprint for sustainable global food systems will do the trick. But we mustn’t let Big Food participate. They’ll muck it up.

One commission member, Corinna Hawkes, offered a more sober assessment:

No question it [the report] is highly aspirational, given today’s world.

We don’t want to put the food industry out of business – we want to it to exist, but exist in a different way. We want to see a thriving entrepreneurial food system with smaller players and lower barriers to entry.

Got it. Big is bad. Except for big visions for big policies to keep the big business of producing food small. And for now, we’ll just set aside any questions about physical activity. This is all about food.

Click here for the report and some splashy PR materials. For diverse perspectives and reporting, click here, here, here, and here.

Fairest City – The Anger for Enemies, painting by Nicholas Roerich / WikiArt

Subscribe by email to follow the accumulating evidence and observations that shape our view of health, obesity, and policy.


January 28, 2019

4 Responses to “A Huge, Impossible Problem with Enemies All Around”

  1. January 28, 2019 at 8:36 am, Al Lewis said:

    When the price of something declines, people buy more of it. Food appears to be no exception. Prices of food — as measured in hours needed to work to feed a family — have been declining for centuries, faster in the last 50 years than ever. For instance, when I was a kid eggs were $0.59 a dozen and the minimum wage, which I earned, was $1.35. Now the minimum wage almost six times higher but eggs cost only about 3 times as much.

    The only exception? Fresh fruits and vegetables. With the exception of raspberries (where packing and shipping technology has hugely reduced wastage), produce prices are up in real terms since the 1960s.

  2. January 28, 2019 at 10:08 am, David Brown said:

    The elite scientists who inform government food policy (mainly epidemiologists) are not paying attention to evidence indicating that changes in the essential fatty acid profile of the food supply are responsible for the global epidemics of obesity and chronic inflammatory disease. Science that is being ignored cannot be translated into practical usefulness. For example, a 2007 paper by Philip Calder contained this comment: “Nevertheless, it is important to keep in mind that, just because there is little biological impact of an increase in arachidonic acid intake or status, there may still be significant benefit from a decrease in its intake or status.” https://www.researchgate.net/publication/6133751_Dietary_arachidonic_acid_Harmful_harmless_or_helpful

    Here is another important paper entitled “An emerging risk factor for obesity: does disequilibrium of polyunsaturated fatty acid metabolism contribute to excessive adipose tissue development?”

  3. January 29, 2019 at 9:14 am, Mary-Jo said:

    Really strange how not just physical activity factor left out when it comes at least to the obesity epidemic of the ‘syndemic’ doomsday scenario (yikes!), but also the influence of ‘BigTech’ and how it factors in or rather doesn’t to the syndemic. I thought technology was supposed to give us more time and energy to solve issues, but instead with 1) obesity and body health, in general — it has enabled and contributed to further decreases in movement and physical activity and sedentary lifestyles from even more sitting than when just hours of TV viewing was the culprit; 2) undernutrition/malnutrition — technology has enabled fast and junk foods to spread like wildfire to poorer neighborhoods and countries, but yet has not helped to make more wholesome foods and methods of producing more wholesome foods available in said neighborhoods and countries, and 3) climate change — how has improved tech helped this other than more widespread media reports of doom and gloom?! I am glad with the serious awareness this report is bringing. More looking forward to the real actions to seriously address each issue and measured effects of synergistic solutions of interconnectedness.

  4. January 29, 2019 at 1:13 pm, Angela Golden said:

    Once again you bring into focus the seperation between clinical practice and policy makers. Not only is activity removed, but so is the rest of evidence based treatment like behavior interventions…. Oh well we will all stay tuned. Thanks Ted for another thought provoking post